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Open Education: Copyright & Licensing

A guide to open educational resources, open pedagogy, and the open ed movement at Gettysburg College

Creative Commons licenses

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

All Creative Commons licenses are made of a combination of 4 facets, which describe what a user can do with the licensed work:

  • Attribution (BY) - Anyone can copy, perform, redistribute, revise, build upon, etc. the work as long as they credit the original author.
  • NonCommercial (NC) - Users can copy, perform, redistribute, revise, build upon, etc. the work so long as they do not gain monetary profit from the use.
  • Share-Alike (SA) - Users can copy, perform, redistribute, revise, build upon, etc. the work, so long as any redistribution is done under the same license as the original work.
  • No Derivatives (ND) - Users can copy, perform, or redistribute the work, but cannot revise it or combine it with other works without permission from the author.

These facets can be combined to make six different licenses.

Creative Commons licenses with full name and logo

For more information on CC Licenses and how they work, please visit the Creative Commons website.

Creative Commons attribution

We love the "TASL" citation recommended by Creative Commons! When citing works, the best practice is to include at least the:

  • Title
  • Author/creator
  • Source of the work
  • License Type

It's also advisable to include any relevant links, embedded in each element. As an example:

Cute sleeping puppy

Adorable sleeping puppy by Doriguzzi from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0

When citing a Creative Commons object in a formal citation style (e.g., MLA) it's best to include the license information after the citation. For the image above this might look like:

Doriguzzi. Adorable sleeping puppy. 2019. Wikimedia Commons,
Licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0.

Fair Use in OER

United States copyright law has built-in exceptions for certain uses of copyrighted materials. Together, these exceptions are called fair use doctrine, and these rules of fair use apply to the use of copyrighted materials in open educational resources as well.

Fair use does not provide a blanket exception for educational uses of materials, however. There are still guidelines and considerations for the ways in which of a copyright work should be used and how much can be reproduced. For more information on fair use in the context of open educational resources, we recommend Best Practices in Fair Use for OER, a report and series of webinars created for educators by copyright experts.

If you have questions about fair use of materials in your own OER, please feel free to reach out to Please be aware: We are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice!