Guide to Licensing
To License or Not to License?
Before discussing how to properly license an OER, it is important to note what happens when you choose not to. Until 1976, creative works were not protected by U.S. copyright law unless their authors took the trouble to publish a copyright notice along with them. Works not affixed with a notice passed into the public domain. Following legislative changes in 1976 and 1988, creative works are now automatically copyrighted. What does this “copyright by default” mean for educators? In short, if you publish a resource with any type of license, you hold the copyright. Anyone who wishes to use it would be required to seek your permission. This highly limits the reusability of any OER, and is not a recommended practice. Instead, your OER will be of the greatest utility when published with one of the many open licensing options available.
GNU General Public License vs. the Creative Commons
The General Public License (GPL) was published in 2007 by the Free Software Foundation for the GNU project. It is currently the most widely used free software license in existence. The GPL ensures a) users may use, study, share (copy), and modify the software and b) the work is “copylefted,” so that all derivative works must retain the same licensing.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Creative Commons, or CC, provides easy-to-use copyright licenses that give the public permission to use a licensed work under conditions of the publishers choice. It is important to note that Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright; rather, they work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.
Unlike software-specific licenses, CC licenses do not contain specific terms about the distribution of source code, which is often important to ensuring the free reuse and modifiability of software. Therefore, CC licenses are not recommended for software products. Instead, they are most commonly utilized for content-based resources such as text, audio, and video. OER primarily consists of these types of files. Therefore, the CC license will be the focus of this guide.
About Public Domain
When a resource is considered to be in the public domain, it refers to the “state of belonging or being available to the public as a whole, and therefore not subject to copyright.” Some works are automatically “expire” into the public domain, including:
- All works published in the U.S. before 1923
- All works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1963 without copyright renewal
- All works published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977
- All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989, and without subsequent registration within five years
If you wish to place a resource that you develop in the public domain, you are required to waive all copyrights to it. This can be accomplished using the CC0 license.
How do I Choose a Creative Commons License?
All Creative Commons licenses incorporate a “three-layer” design, composed of a Legal Code, Commons Deed (legal reference in layman’s terms), and a “machine readable” version of the license — a summary of the key freedoms and obligations written into a format that software systems, search engines, and other kinds of technology can understand.
In choosing a Creative Commons license, there are three features, or attributes, to consider:
Share Alike (sa)
No Derivatives (nd)
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work and derivative works based upon it, but only if they give credit the way you request.
You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work and derivative works based upon it, but for non-commercial purposes only.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it. Note: licensing a work as No Derivatives precludes other teachers from modifying or customizing your work, and therefore does not align with the goals of OER.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work - and derivative works based upon it - but only if they give you credit.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it - but only if they give you credit.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it - but only if they give you credit, and is not used for commercial purposes.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work - and derivative works based upon it - but for non-commercial purposes only.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work - and derivative works based upon it - but for non-commercial purposes only, and only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.
You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work - and derivative works based upon it - but only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.
The Creative Commons website also offers a customizable tool to help you choose the best license for your work.
How do I Attach a Creative Commons License?
Attaching a CC license to your work is fairly simple. The following step-by-step guide is provided by the Creative Commons:
1. Copy and paste the HTML code into your webpage or website.
The specifics of inserting the code depend on how you edit your website. The block of code should be inserted into the page HTML - most desktop website tools like Dreamweaver, Frontpage, or GoLive offer a "code view" that lets you see the code that makes up your page. Near the end of the page before you see </body></html>, paste the HTML code in directly.
If all of the resources you are publishing on a single website are licensed under the same CC license, it makes sense to paste the HTML code into your website’s template (e.g., in a footer or sidebar area). After saving the template, the chosen license information should appear everywhere on your site. Whether you add license information to a single page or an entire site, once live on the Internet, the license information will be displayed and the machines will be able to detect the license status automatically.
2. Edit the descriptive text to suit your needs.
For example, if you select CC BY in the chooser, the default text you receive in the second line of html code is:
This work is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en_US">Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License</a>.
The bolded text is descriptive, and you can edit it without affecting the code. For example, you might specify what 'work' you're talking about, or let users know that the entire site is available under the license unless noted otherwise. You could edit the bolded part as follows:
Except where otherwise noted, this website is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en_US">Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License</a>.
Uploading to an OER Repository
In order for an OER to be of the utmost utility to the CTE community, it needs to in a position to be found by potential users. OER are frequently listed on one or more repositories and in some cases even hosted by them. The following section will introduce frequently-used OER repositories that are open to user-submissions.
Open Repository vs. Institutional/Organizational Repository
Many frequently cited OER repositories are actually composed of entirely institutional content. They are not open to submission from outside sources. Therefore, it is important to select an Open Repository that will incorporate your submission.
Open OER Repositories
The following introduces a number of OER repositories that accept outside submissions. You do not have to choose only one – there are no restrictions surrounding the listing of OER.
- OER Commons – an initiative of the Institute for Knowledge Management and the repository on which this resource is based
- MERLOT – Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching, a program of California State University, and one the largest repositories in existence
- Curriki - hosts more than 54,000 resources that range from simple lessons to full courses
- Wikieducator- Content management system that allows users to create an encyclopedia collaboratively written by many of its readers
Process for Uploading
The process for uploading OER is fairly streamlined across repositories. Most often, you will be presented with two options: a) submit a link to a resource that is hosted elsewhere or b) utilize the in-app content creator to create a resource that is hosted by the repository itself. Note that in the latter case, most content builders can only incorporate text, video, and audio files, so you will have to determine on an individual basis if they can accommodate your interactive resource.
In general, the steps you will be asked to take are:
- Enter site URL
- Enter metadata (describe the resource) – author, category, license, etc.
- Submit the resource
Once submitted, many sources offer comment and rating functionality, meaning other users will be able to review your resource and recommend it to others. It is also important to note that resources cannot often be removed from repositories – once posted, they are free for others to use or reuse and the “sharing” functionality cannot be taken be away.
While repositories may be an effective way to disseminate your content to a large audience, other less structured options exist. Posting your OER to a social media site allows you to target dissemination to those within your network or open it up to a larger community of followers. In addition, social media sites have the added benefit of not being limited to the education community (the users who will be searching for OER) and may actually offer your OER greater visibility. Social media sites that may be applicable to OER dissemination include:
The proliferation of OER unlocks a wealth of possibilities for the CTE community. Not only do they offer a means of addressing challenging resource demands, but when implemented well, they can revitalize the classroom experience. CTE teachers around the world have the opportunity to collaborate and share their collective knowledge in pursuit of better teaching and learning experiences for all students, and those students will leave their classrooms better prepared for the workforce and beyond.
One aspect of OER not to be overlooked is that they are truly for everyone – from downloading and customizing a textbook to developing a complete simulation from scratch, there is a “what” and a “how” for every educator. There are no limits to what can be created and shared. Indeed, OER’s effectiveness as educational tools will only continue to grow as the community uses, discusses, improves, and builds them.
The developers of this technical assistance guide encourage you to treat it not as a static report, but truly as an OER – one you can customize, modify, and improve upon as you see fit. Comments and revisions to the relevancy of this guide are welcomed and encouraged.