As soon as you put down an idea into a tangible format, that material is protected under United States copyright law. Rights to use the material, including selling it, are yours unless otherwise defined by a contract. How, then, do open educational resources stay open? The following information will answer some questions about how copyright law applies to OER, and review more general copyright resources for instructors.
Creative Commons Licenses
Open educational resources (OER) use non-restrictive open licenses to give permission to the public to distribute, remix, or create new works. Many OER use Creative Commons as their open license system of choice. Creative Commons licenses have a legal document behind each license type, along with a “human-readable” reference version and machine-readable code. Open licenses are compatible with United States copyright law, because you, as the author or publisher, are giving explicit permission to use your works to the public.
Faculty creating a new OER can choose any of the following licenses for their resource. However, we recommend that you not use any of the ND (No Derivatives) licenses, since that would restrict who can reuse or adapt your work, and make it more difficult for others to make second editions or alternate versions of your work.
The most common Creative Commons licenses for OER are:
- Attribution (CC BY) Anyone is free to remix, redistribute, and even commercially use your work, so long as the new work attributes the original work and its author. CC BY is the most popular license for OER.
- Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) Anyone is free to remix, redistribute, and even commercially use your work, so long as the new work attributes the original work and its author and the new works are shared under the same license. This keeps all material derived from your original work to also be open.
- Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) Anyone is free to remix and redistribute your work, but not commercially, so long as the new work attributes the original work and its author.
- Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) Anyone is free to remix and redistribute your work, but not commercially, so long as the new work attributes the original work and its author and the new works are shared under the same license. This keeps all material derived from your original work to be both open and non-commercial.
- Public Domain Mark (CC0) No rights reserved - anyone is free to remix, redistribute, and even commercially use your work.
You can read more about the licenses on the Creative Commons website.
Works in the public domain are no longer protected by copyright in the United States. Items are generally included in the public domain if they were licensed with a CC-0 Creative Commons license, if their copyright has expired, or if they were published by the U.S. federal government. Items published before 1924 in the United States or items whose author died more than 70 years ago are likely in the public domain.
Copyright Resources at ISU
Iowa State University provides copyright support for users through a few different avenues, depending on your needs. For questions related to copyright and teaching, your best bet would be to contact the University Library or to review the resources provided by the University Library below:
ISU Resources on Copyright & Education
- ISU Library Guide on Copyright for Research & Teaching
- Copyright Resources from the ISU Library
- Copyright in the Classroom Handout [pdf]
- ISU Library Guide on Creative Commons
- University Counsel Intellectual Property Resources