Copyright Considerations

About Creative Commons Licenses

If you are looking for content to add to your textbook, you should look for and use Creative Commons licensed material.

Why you should use openly licensed materials

You can use non-Creative Commons licensed material in your textbook, however keep in mind that it may increase your workload as well as limit the ability of other to use or reuse your book. To use copyrighted material in your textbook, you must first obtain written permission from the copyright holder. You must clearly note in the textbook which material is under copyright so others using the book know they cannot reuse or modify that material, and must either replace it or obtain permission from the copyright holder.

Using copyrighted material creates a barrier to the usage of your open textbook. Creative Commons licensed material, on the other hand, can legally be shared and reused – this is one of the best things about open textbooks!

Understanding Creative Commons Licenses

The National Copyright Unit and Creative Commons Australia have jointly developed the Creative Commons Information Pack for teachers and students on Creative Commons (CC). The pack explains what CC is, how to find CC material and the best way to attribute CC material.

Creating OER and combining licenses (video)

Attribution – This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.
Attribution Share Alike – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
Attribution No Derivatives – This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Attribution Non-Commercial – This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.
Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

(Adapted from 2010 Erik Christensen © CC-BY 3.0)

License Types for Open Textbooks

Ideally, resources added to an existing textbook as part of a modification or newly created textbook should use a CC-BY license. Other CC licenses are acceptable except for the CC-BY-ND and CC-BY-NC-ND (no derivatives) licenses as these do not allow the textbook to be revised.

When it comes to working with open textbooks (and open educational resources in general), one of the conceptual hurdles faced by many people is around the notion of adapting or changing someone’s work. What exactly can be adapted within the scope of an open textbook, and won’t the original author get upset if you change their work?

Changing someone’s work can feel uncomfortable. But be assured that if the author of the textbook has released their textbook under a Creative Commons license that allows for adaptation (which is any Creative Commons license that does not have a No Derivative (ND) attribution added to it), they expect that you will change the content, providing that you give them the proper attribution.

What can you change?

Anything and everything in an open textbook can be changed as long as the conditions of the open license are met. The modifications or changes you make can be fairly minor or major depending on what you need to do to make the book work for you. That is the beauty and power of open textbooks. You are in charge of the resource. You have been given permission to change it ahead of time by the original author. Take advantage of it!

No Derivative (ND) Attribution licence

If the book you are looking to adapt has an No Derivative (ND) license you still have the option of writing to the original author(s) to ask if you can adapt their work for your teaching. If they say no, you can still use the text (or chapters of the text) in your teaching, but can’t adapt or change the wording of the chapters, or chapter organization of the textbook.

Using Copyright Material in Your Open Textbook

Be careful if you are consulting copyrighted textbooks when writing your new open content. Make sure that your newly created open textbook is not based on, or adapted from an already existing copyrighted work. Note that charts, tables, figures, etc. used in academic journals are often copyrighted by those journals and should not be used unless the journal is published under an open access license. Open access journal content can be used and cited under the terms of the CC license of that journal or book.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Ryerson Open Textbook Authoring Guide Copyright © 2017 by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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