The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

Worldcat Library Catalog Journal Titles

Applying Creative Commons Licenses to Your Work

Creative Commons and Copyright

Creative Commons license spectrumA Simplified Overview of Copyright and Creative Commons

Copyright protections give authors/creators of content exclusive rights, including the right to make copies, distribute, and sell the protected works.

The internet has enhanced our ability to create content, to distribute it broadly at little to no cost (aside from the costs related to accessing the internet), and to collaborate on developing content with others near and far.

The ever-increasing term of copyright protection in the United States (now the life of the author plus 70 years) can have an inhibiting effect on sharing, creating, and building upon protected works.

Creative Commons, a non-profit organization, was founded in response to this conflict. They developed a series of Creative Commons licenses that work in conjunction with copyright, allowing authors/creators of content to reserve their rights under copyright while also granting specific permissions to others to legally use the works in certain ways.

It is through Creative Commons licensing that we can make copyrighted works available as Open Access and Open Educational Resources.

The chart at the right shows the range of permissions available from the most open (public domain/CC0) at the top to the least open (all rights reserved under copyright) at the bottom. The Creative Commons licenses appear between these extremes, and the permissions they afford appear at the left. You will learn more about the licenses in Module 2.

"Creative Commons license spectrum" by Shaddim (original licenses by Creative Commons); has a CC BY 4.0 license.

Open Educational Resources, Open Access, and Creative Commons

Open Educational Resources

Creative Commons defines OER as "teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission" to reuse the resources in certain ways.

OER can take many forms. Syllabi, test questions, worked examples, assignments, lessons, textbooks, and even full courses can be licensed openly.

"Open Education" by Creative Commons is licensed CC BY 4.0.

Most definitions of OER suggest that all of the "5Rs" must be applicable in order for the resource to truly be considered an OER.

5R Permissions of OER

According to David Wiley, the 5Rs, through the application of Creative Commons licenses, grant permission to do the following:

  1. Retain - make, own, and control a copy of the resource
  2. Revise - edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource
  3. Remix - combine your original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new
  4. Reuse - use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly
  5. Redistribute - share copies of your original, revised, or remixed copy with others

"Defining the 'Open' in Open Content and Open Educational Resources" by David Wiley has a CC BY 4.0 license.


Open Access

According to SPARC, "Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment."

This means that research is freely available to all via the internet through author-archived versions of articles in institutional repositories (like Digital Commons) or directly through open access journals.

"Open Access to Scholarly and Scientific Research Articles" by SPARC is licensed CC BY 3.0.

OA, OER, and CC Licenses

Open access typically refers to research literature that is published or archived under an open license so that it is freely available to--at a minimum--use, retain, and share.

OER represent a wider variety of types of materials that are used for teaching, learning, and research, and are licensed to grant a broad range of permissions (the 5 Rs).

We'll look more closely at the licenses and what they allow in the next module.


Why Should I Consider Creative Commons Licensing?

There are various reasons you may want to consider applying Creative Commons licenses to your work or using Creative Commons-licensed materials in your courses. There are potential benefits for you, for your students, and for the larger community.

Faculty Benefits of Open Access

  • Retain your exclusive rights (rather than signing them over to publishers)
  • Aligns with open access requirements of many grants
  • Aligns with Bucknell's Open Access Policy
  • CC licenses are standardized and legally enforceable internationally
  • More efficient contribution to the advancement of knowledge
  • Your students have access to a broader range of content than subscriptions the library provides
  • Your students retain access to open content after they graduate
  • There is no embargo on the research; it's available to the public immediately
  • Open licensing allows other researchers to use the data and build upon the research
  • Publicly funded research is made freely available to the public

Faculty Benefits of Creating or Using OER

  • Increased ability to customize your course content
  • Ability to update/modify your course materials
  • Students have access to course content on Day 1 of class
  • Students can engage differently with content (open licensing allows them to create and modify content)
  • Reduces barriers to a quality education for your students
  • Your students retain access to content
  • Creating content that others can use is a way of giving back to the educational community or contributing to the knowledge commons
  • Others can build on content you provide

Kelsea Jones' podcast "In Common" takes an informative look at Creative Commons licenses. Jones created each episode of the podcast in response to an assignment prompt for the Creative Commons Certification program. You can listen to (and reuse!) all of the Creative Commons-licensed episodes on SoundCloud. In the final episode, "Openly License Your Life" Kelsea provides inspiring arguments for why open licensing is important in higher ed and beyond!

Here's a transcript of the episode if you'd like to read it.


"Module 1: Introduction" is a derivative of the September 2019 Creative Commons Certificate Course by Creative Commons, licensed CC BY 4.0 and of the November 2020 Research by Subject guide "A Guide to Open Access and Open Educational Resources" by Jill Hallam-Miller, licensed CC BY 4.0.

Go to Module 2: Licensing Considerations