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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Creative Commons Licenses


Creative Commons (CC) licenses are at the very core of Open Educational Resources (OER). By applying for a CC license, content owners can retain the creator status of their materials while also allowing their work to be widely distributed. Unlike public domain resources, which are free to the public without the need for attribution, OER with Creative Commons licenses still often require attribution to the original content owner, depending on the CC license applied to the material(s). In addition, unlike copyright, CC licenses allow users to reuse, redistribute, or even modify other people's original content without first having to contact the material's owner.

Why Use Creative Commons Licenses?


Creative Commons licenses allow content creators, researchers, instructors, and students to share and discover robust open educational materials across nearly every disciplinary field of study or area of interest. From textbooks to homework assignments, images and videos, and everything in-between, Creative Commons opens the floodgates of academic inquiry open to a wider audience of both mature and budding scholars. 

Creative Commons Options

Creative Commons licenses are coded by the degrees of flexibility they offer to users. From the least restrictive license - the "BY" -  which only requires that users provide appropriate attribution to the original content creator, to the most restrictive licenses - the "BY-NC-ND," which do not allow for commercial usage or changes to the original material, CC licenses allow content owners to determine for themselves how they prefer their work to be distributed, reused, and/or altered. This chart below offers a graphic description of the varying degrees to which Open Educational Resources with Creative Commons licenses can be utilized, modified, and disseminated.

Chart of the various types of CC licenses. Text equivalent is below.

Text Equivalent: The Seven (7) Types of CC Licenses

  • Public domain license
    • Does not require attribution. 
    • Allows copy & publish, commercial use, modify & adapt, and change license. 
  • BY Attribution
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish, commercial use, modify & adapt, and change license. 
  • BY-SA Attribution c
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish, commercial use, and modify & adapt.
    • Does not allow change license. 
  • BY-ND Attribution No Derivatives
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish, commercial use, and change license. 
    • Does not allow modify & adapt.
  • BY-NC Attribution Non-Commercial
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish, modify & adapt, and change license. 
    • Does not allow commercial use.
  • BY-NC-SA  Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish and modify & adapt.
    • Does not allow commercial use and change license. 
  • BY-NC-ND Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
    • Requires attribution.
    • Allows copy & publish and change license. 
    • Does not allow commercial use and modify & adapt.

The 5 Rs of OER

The 5Rs of Open Educational Resources are the parameters by which users can reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain OER content.

Content creators outline their preferences by which their work can be utilized with their respective choice(s) of Creative Commons licenses.

Depending on the CC license, users can:

  • reuse OER materials in their original form 
  • revise that information for their individual purposes 
  • remix OER with other sources for use as a 'new' resource
  • redistribute the original or new/remixed content, or 
  • retain the original source solely for personal, reference, or archival purposes. 

The image below offers a graphic representation of the 5 Rs of OER in a cyclical relationship with one another. That is, these modifications to OER course materials don't operate in isolation from one another, and the final product of OER for an entire course might consist of multiple sources that have been reused, revised, etc.


The 5Rs of OER

Imaged used with permission by a CC BY 4.0 license. Borrowed from Nova Southeastern University Florida

The Creative Commons non-profit organization has developed an online tool for those wishing to publish their own open educational resources. This tool will help you to decide which CC license is best for your purposes and will provide an HTML code to assign to your digital materials as well as the appropriate image to copy into printed documents. 

Creative Commons is in the process of developing a new tool for determining licenses, so this information is apt to change in the near future. [Information added 5.17.2021.]

For a thorough explanation about the current process of choosing a Creative Commons license, please see the video below.