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Open Educational Resources

Choosing a Creative Commons License

Remember that Creative Commons Licenses are applied to derivative or collected works that also carry CC Licenses. They are not designed to be applied to works that are covered solely by copyright law - unless the work is in the public domain or carries a public domain dedication. In general, you can apply an appropriate Creative Commons License to the OER you create, including derivative and share-alike works. Remember to attribute authors/creators appropriately. Attribution can happen in the text, as footnotes, endnotes, or some other fashion that suits the situation. The following are examples of acceptable phrasing:

"Unless otherwise noted, this work is licensed under CC BY-SA by [your name]" 

"Unless otherwise noted, this presentation and unattributed photos are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by Carol Brigham"

If you look closely at the various parts of this LibGuide, you will find attribution for the graphics, the list of resources for finding OER, and finally the attribution applied to the guide itself.

Licensing a Collection

Collections are made up of multiple works that are not altered or adapted in any way – they appear separately in their original state. Collections can include works

  1. that are in the public domain;
  2. through the exemptions & limitations of copyright law;
  3. with the express permission of the copyright holder; or
  4. through specific applied licenses such as the Creative Commons or Unsplash licenses.

Each individual item in a collection must be attributed and include its licensing status. It is important to remember that the licenses that are applied to the individual pieces in the collection affect the license that can be applied to the collection itself. The inclusion of works covered by a license that includes NonCommercial means that the collection itself must carry an NC license component.


Licensing Your Original Creation

When you are ready to apply a Creative Commons to a work you have created, think about the terms of the licenses.  All CC Licenses require users of your work to give you credit - hence the Attribution Element (BY) appears in all six licenses.

The CC License Chooser

The Creative Commons website has a License Chooser tool that is available at Answer a few questions about how you want others to be able to use your work, input some data about you and the work, and the License Chooser will provide the appropriate CC License along with the formatted statement for you to include with your work.

Things to Consider

  • The CC BY license is the most permissive of the licenses. If you apply this license, others are free to use, adapt, copy, and redistribute your work.
  • The  most prohibitive license is CC BY-NC-ND. If you apply this license, others may copy and redistribute your work. 
  • Think twice before applying the NonCommercial Element (NC). It is highly unlikely that a commercial enterprise will attempt to sell your content since it's on the internet and freely available for anyone to use or copy.
  • Remember that CC Licenses are irrevocable.  Once you've applied a particular license, its terms stand in perpetuity. You may re-release your content under a new license, but anyone who encountered the original work is free to use it according to the terms of the license you originally applied.
  • There are many more considerations to using licensed work and applying a license. You can view them here.
  • A valuable resource is the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions webpage. It addresses many issues, including topics such as what to do when you do not want to be affiliated with a work that was adapted from yours.

Licensing an Adaptation/Derivative/Remix

Adaptations, remixes, and derivative works are different from collections in that they alter the appearance or intent of the original work.  A few examples include: altering a photograph by changing the colors or adding an image to the photo. A translation of a work from one language to another is also considered an adaptation because the nuances of language may alter the author’s original intent.  The resulting work is considered unique in itself and is thus protected by copyright. Uses such as employing a quote or excerpt from a work into something like an article does not generally constitute a derivative work if the excerpt is used as an example or to clarify an idea. However, if the new work is built on the excerpt, then it is considered an adaptation.

  • Like the licensing for collections, the CC licenses for adaptations/remixes/derivative works depend upon the license assigned to the original work. When adapting a work carrying a BY or BY-NC license, the license applied to the derivative should include at least the same elements as those applied to the original work.  In order to make the restrictions clear to re-users of the derivative work, appropriate licenses include BY-NC, BY-NC-SA, and BY-NC-ND. There are other licenses that meet the criteria, but the adapter must explicitly indicate that there are multiple copyrights/licenses that need to be considered by potential users/re-users.
  • Licensing for original works carrying either BY-SA or BY-NC-SA becomes more complicated. Derivatives of original works carrying BY-SA 1.0 and BY-NC-SA 1.0 licenses, must be assigned the same version 1.0 license as the original work. Note that CC licenses after version 1.0 allow for the licensing of your adaptation under a later version of the same license. Therefore, the only possible CC licenses for such derivatives are BY-SA and BY-NC-SA. Creative Commons has created a compatibility clause that allows for similar non-CC licenses to be applied to derivative works.  Currently there is only one compatible content-only SA license – the Free Art Library (FAL 1.3) See for complete details.
  • Since the distribution of adaptations is not permitted under the BY-ND and BY-NC-ND licenses, there is no compatible licenses for derivative works. Moreover, the pre-4.0 versions prohibit the creations of adaptations of the ND licenses.
  • The Creative Commons License Compatibility Chart is a powerful tool for determining which types of licensed materials can be included in a remixed work.