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Open Educational Resources – The Copyright Context


The spirit behind Open Education Resources (OER) stems from the desire to make instructional materials freely available for other educators to retain, revise, reuse, remix, and redistribute. OERs are not “copyright free”, so before working with OERs, it is important to understand a few copyright basics and understand how OER creators are working within the legal framework of copyright to make their materials accessible to others.


Copyright protection is conferred on all original work, and is automatic upon physical fixation: paper, electronic, audio-recording, etcetera. No © symbol or other information is required to indicate copyright protection. Therefore, you should assume that content is copyrighted unless otherwise determined, including anything found on the internet, and that it cannot be used without the permission of the copyright holder. Traditional copyright is an “all rights reserved” model.

Public Domain

A copyrighted work enters the public domain when the term of copyright ends. Typically, this occurs 50 years after the death of the author. Some countries have longer terms of copyright; for example, in the United States the copyright term is life of the author plus 70 years. Follow the copyright laws that apply to your country. It is also critical to understand that content found on the internet is not necessarily public domain.

Open Licensing

An open license does NOT replace traditional copyrights. Works with open licenses are not public domain – unless specifically indicated. Authors still retain full rights to their work, but use open licenses to provide “permission in advance” for the use of their work. Creative Commons is the most well-known open licensing system, allowing creators a choice of six different licenses. Creative Commons is a “some rights reserved” model of copyright. Creative Commons licensing underlies the “open” aspect of most OERs, so a clear understanding of these different licensing conditions is necessary to enable the effective use and/or creation of content. Ideally, the source content and the subsequent license applied to any remixes should carry those Creative Commons licenses that have liberal re-use restrictions in order to facilitate the most flexible uses of content for creators and end-users alike.