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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Introduction to Creative Commons

What are Creative Commons licenses?




Creative Commons licenses are used to indicate whether people are legally allowed to "share, modify, revise, and otherwise use content." If you'd like to designate your work as an OER, a Creative Commons license is the key. 

The symbols below may look confusing at first, but each one has a specific legal meaning (check out this post where we break down the specifics in plain, clear language). Essentially, Creative Commons provides an alternative to traditional copyright, and lets you share content more freely. 

Copyright v.s. Creative Commons

Under traditional copyright law, the creator retains the rights to their work ("all rights reserved"). This offers many automatic protections to creators. But what if you want to share your content? Creative Commons emerged as a way to allow more sharing, while still giving credit to the original creator. 

The Six Creative Commons Licenses







Each one of the boxes above is a unique Creative Commons license. CC BY, for example, offers different permissions than the one below it, CC BY SA. As you get used to looking for CC licenses, they become more familiar - but if you'd like a quick and easy answer on which license to use, try this tool from Creative Commons

Understanding Creative Commons Symbols

The symbols below are all found in the CC licenses. By reading each one, we can get a sense of what the license permits. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What content is OK to post on a course site? 

Materials can be posted on the OpenLab or another content management system if:

  • The copyright holder of the material grants permission (via a Creative Commons license or written consent) or you are the copyright holder of the material

  • The material is made available by linking to a version made publicly accessible from the copyright holder

  • The material is in the public domain

From Columbia's Copyright Advisory Office

What if a work has no license displayed on it?

When in doubt, link out! 

  • If a material is freely available online (but is not public domain or CC licensed), always provide a link to that material to avoid copyright violation.

  • Using library resources? Generate durable links to them! 

Extra/Other Readings: 

Read about the limitations and freedoms of CC licenses via this 2015 court ruling.


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