Copyright and Licensing

35 How to Ensure that all Content is “Open”

If you are writing a new textbook (or other open educational resource, or OER) or adapting an existing one, it is important that ensure that the content fulfills the open copyright license requirements. See the Creative Commons website for details about specific licenses.

Is Your Material Really Open

As the author of new text, the photographer of a new picture, or creator of some other newly produced resource for an open textbook, you are also the copyright holder. This means that copyright will be assigned to you, but you have agreed to release your portion of work within an open textbook or OER with an open copyright license, typically a Creative Commons license.

However, open educational resources often include materials from external sources. And it is the licensing conditions of these items that must be carefully examined before including them in your open textbook or OER. See below for guidelines navigating the Internet for open materials.

  • Just because you find something on the Internet, it doesn’t mean you are free to use it.
  • Look for copyright information (who owns it) and licensing information (what are the conditions of use laid by the owner or copyright holder).
  • If the copyright and licensing information isn’t immediately apparent on a website, click around and look at links such as “Terms and Conditions” and “Permissions”.
  • If the copyright for a resource has expired and it is in the public domain OR the material’s creator has voluntarily released their work into the public domain, look for a clear marking of this intent.
  • Be careful when using images found online. A photograph of a centuries old painting may be copyrighted and released with a strict license (“All Rights Reserved”). See “Who Gets Attribution for an Attribution” under Images: Captions, Attributions and Citations.
  • If you can’t find a copyright statement or copyright license, don’t use the material.
  • Even if a website is labelled as “open”, unless the material is clearly marked with an open copyright license or uses a public domain tool, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use a resource for which one-time permission has been granted by the creator. (Creative Commons licenses permit unlimited usage). Instead, if you find material that you want to use but hasn’t been released with an open copyright license, try contacting the author or creator and ask if he/she will consider doing so.
  • Last, but most importantly, keep track of all external resources added to an open textbook or OER. Include, for each item:
    • Date retrieved
    • URL where item was retrieved
    • Title and, ideally, a screenshot of an item if it’s an image
    • Clear description of where a segment of text was found (link on website, paragraph number, etc.)
    • License type or public domain tool that permits usage
    • Where the item has been placed in your textbook or other OER.

For information about where to find openly licensed materials and other details on open licenses, see the chapter on Copyright and Licensing.