Open Licensing

Module 1 explained that OER are either in the public domain or released with copyright permissions which allows for free use and repurposing by others. Specifically, an open license exists as a way for the original creator to clearly inform others how their work can be used by granting permissions to share and adapt their work. The variety of open license permissions known as Creative Commons (CC) are the predominant standards for open licensing. The different CC license permissions are described in detail in Module 7.

This video provides more information about the benefits of an open license and how this standard makes sharing and reusing resources easy.

Why is an open license important?

The copyright status and license applied determine what one can and cannot do with the creative work of someone else. Knowing how to identify and differentiate between common types of copyright status is useful when determining which and how content may be reused. One should assume that a work is All Rights Reserved, unless the creator explicitly states otherwise, or the user of the work can prove otherwise.

The adjacent graphic shows the Creative Commons licenses and their level of openness.

Creative commons license spectrum between public domain (top) and all rights reserved (bottom). Left side indicates the use-cases allowed, right side the license components. The dark green area indicates Free Cultural Works compatible licenses, the two green areas compatibility with the Remix culture. The bright green area alone can be seen as similar to the "fair use" concept, and the yellow area to the "freeware" concept.

"Creative commons license spectrum" by Shaddim is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

What is the difference between public domain and open license?

Public domain and open licensing grant free access to the materials, but the scope and nature are different. Open licensing recognizes clear ownership of intellectual property and the work is still protected under copyright law, whereas works in the public domain are not protected by copyright law. Therefore, users are required to follow the license requirements when using openly licensed materials.

The following table highlights the differences between public domain, open licensing, and all rights reserved copyright.

To the extent possible under law, Tina Mullins has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to "Public Domain, Open Licensing and All Rights Reserved". This work is published from the United States.

Why Open Licensing Matters

The power of open licensing lies in its ability to clearly communicate how the creator intends the work to be used. A creator can explicitly share the work and control the licensing provisions while retaining ownership. Remember, for a work without a copyright notice, all rights reserved is assumed. Displaying an open copyright license statement with work intended to be shared openly ensures its ability to be reused, retained, revised, remixed, and/or redistributed in the way the author or creator intended.


Information for this module was consulted and adapted from

"An Overview of Copyright" by Linda Williams, Tidewater Community College is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"Copyright, Creative Commons, and Public Domain" by William Meinke is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"Creating, Licensing and Publishing OER" by SUNY OER Services is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"Module 7: Public Domain" by Open Washington, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

"What is an open license and how does it work?" by The Council of Chief State School Officers is licensed under CC BY 4.0.