7 Understanding Open Licences

Before you start planning your project, you will need to ensure you understand copyright considerations for OER and open texts and how these differ from other types of educational materials. This includes understanding how open licences like Creative Commons licences work.

What is an Open Licence?

In copyright terms, a licence specifies what you can and can’t do with a copyrighted work such as an image, video or written text. Licences are usually very restrictive, prohibiting copying or redistribution except in a few special circumstances.

An open licence grants rights to access, reuse, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

For example, an image on a website made available under an open licence would be free for anyone to:

  • print out and share
  • publish on another website or in print
  • make alterations or additions.

There are many forms of open licences, the most common of which is a Creative Commons licence.

What is a Creative Commons Licence?

Creative Commons is a set of standardised licence features used to license copyrighted works (including music, artistic, literary and video works) for public use. Creative Commons works are free to use provided the licence terms are followed.

able of Creative Commons licences. First is Attribution will means you most credit the creator. Then, non-commercial which means work cannot be used for commercial purposes. Then no derivatives which means work cannot be modified, and ShareAlike which means any new material produced using the work must be available under the same licence. Lastly is the public domain, where the copyright owner waives their rights or the work has expired
Figure 3: Table of Creative Commons licences

These conditions can be combined to form the six Creative Commons licences (CC0 is not considered a true CC licence). See below:

Table of six Creatve Commons licence. The first role is CC By (Attribution) which is the most liberal beside CC0 Public Domain dedication. This licence allows others to remix, distribute, tweak and build upon provided they provide credit to the author and clearly indicate changes that were made. The next is CC BY SA (Attribution ShareAlike). Similar to CC BY, however others must licence new creations under identical terms. Therefore all new works reusing parts of such work will need to carry the same licence. CC BY-ND (Attribution No Derivatives - this licence allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial provided it is unchanged with credit to the author CC BY-NC (Attribution Non-commericial_ cannot remix or build upon for commercial purposes. CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution Noncommericial ShareAlike) the licence lets others remix, tweak and distribute work non-commericially, provided they provide credit to author and licence the new work under identical terms. CC BY NC ND (Attribution, Non-Commericial NoDerivatives - this is the most restrictive fo the six liencses, only allowing users to download and share them as long as they credit the author
Figure 4: The Six Creative Commons Licences. This table is reproduced from Western Sydney University, originally adapted with small alterations from Martin Paul Eve, Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence. The two columns were merged, and the text slightly changed.

You can read more about how each CC licence works on the Licence Deeds.

Note: UniSQ Library does not support the Creative Commons licences that include the – ND (NoDerivatives) restriction as content under this licence cannot be changed.

Which Licence Works for You?

Follow the steps in this Licence Chooser to select the appropriate licence for your work. The Licence Chooser provides a fast, step-by-step approach to selecting a licence for your work.

Choosing a Creative Commons Licence

When planning for your publication you will have considered what Creative Commons licence you want to apply to your finished work. As you prepare your manuscript, ensure that you understand the licence requirements of all third-party resources that you intend to use.

OER are meant to be flexible and allow for maximum dissemination. When choosing a licence, consider the rights you want to grant future users.

  • You can learn more about the spectrum of licences offered by the Creative Commons in their Licences and Examples guide.
  • Some funding agencies require the use of a specific licence when creating OER. If you receive funding, be sure to check the funding policy requirements.
  • The open content you use in your work can sometimes dictate the licence in which the work will be distributed under.
  • Attribute all content.

Watch: Creative Commons licence explained [5:32 mins].

Compatibility of Licences

In an ideal world, you would always be able to find resources with the most open licences. However, you will be more likely to deal with resources with different licences. This can be complicated as not all CC licences are compatible. For example, you cannot create a remix using works with a CC BY-SA licence, and a CC BY-NC-SA licence since both require the remixed work to be released under the same licence. The following chart can be used to help determine if resources with different licences are compatible.

A chart showing compatibility between Creative Commons Licences. The chart shows that Public Domain and CC BY are compatible with all licences except CC BY-ND and CC-BY-NC-ND. CC BY-SA is compatible with all licences except CC BY-NC, CC BY-ND, CC-BY-NC-SA, and CC-BY-NC-ND. CC BY-NC is compatible with all licences except CC BY-SA, CC BY-ND and CC-BY-NC-ND. CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND aren't compatible with any other Creative Commons licence. CC BY-NC-SA is compatible with all licences except CC BY-SA, CC BY-ND and CC-BY-NC-ND.
Figure 5: CC License Compatibility Chart by Kennisland, licensed under CC0 licence.

Where Can I Access Support?

Please contact the OEP team with any questions you may have regarding Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons FAQs

Have a question about Creative Commons licences? Browse through this extensive list of frequently asked questions.

Chapter Attribution

This chapter is adapted in parts from:


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Open Publishing Guide for Authors Copyright © 2023 by University of Southern Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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