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Open Educational Resources (OER)

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Creative Commons Licenses and OER

Many open resources are licensed under a Creative Commons license. These licenses are sets of permissions that make it easy for users to determine what they are allow to do with the work. Creative Commons licenses give content creators a “standardized way to grant the public  permission to use their creative work under copyright law.”

There are four main elements or attributes that can be indicated in a Creative Commons license:

  BY - Attribution: Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix the work as long as they credit the original creator.

  SA - Share Alike: Derivatives (e.g. adaptations, revisions, remixes, etc.) of the original work must be shared under the same license as the original.

  NC - Noncommercial: Others can copy, distribute, display, perform, and remix the work for noncommercial purposes only (i.e. they can't make money off it).

  ND - No Derivatives: Others can copy, distribute, display, or perform the work, but remixes, adaptations, revisions, etc., are not allowed.


These four elements can be combined into the six main types of Creative Commons licenses:

CC-BY (Attribution)                                                                                        
CC-BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)                                                      
CC-BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial)
CC-BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivatives)
CC-BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)
CC-BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives)


However, not all Creative Commons licenses are suitable for OER! Creative Commons licenses with a “No Derivatives” (ND) clause do not meet the definition of an OER as they do not allow users to adapt, modify, revise, or customize them to suit the needs of their courses and instruction.

Spectrum of Creative Commons license and whether they meet the definition of OER



Source for Creative Commons icons and quote (available under a CC-BY 4.0 license): Creative Commons (n.d.) About CC licenses.
Source for second image (available under a CC-BY 4.0 license): Green, C., Park, J., & Jacob, M. (2016). Shifting your district to open educational resources with Creative Commons.