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What is OER?

The terms "open content" and "open educational resources" describe any copyrightable work (traditionally excluding software, which is described by other terms like "open source") that is either (1) in the public domain or (2) licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities:

  1. Retain - the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse - the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise - the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix - the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute - the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)




What is copyright?

Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.


Public Domain

What is Public Domain?

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

There are four common ways that works arrive in the public domain:

  • the copyright has expired

  • the copyright owner failed to follow copyright renewal rules

  • the copyright owner deliberately places it in the public domain, known as “dedication,” or

  • copyright law does not protect this type of work.


Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

Best known for its licenses, Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. 

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons licenses provide an easy way to manage the copyright terms that attach automatically to all creative material under copyright. Licenses allow material to be shared and reused under terms that are flexible and legally sound. 



Open Educational Resources may be used free of charge; however, one of the most important aspects of OER usage is attribution. Licensing terms vary according to the resource, but at a minimum the resource's creator must be acknowledged.  

An attribution statement should include the following: 

  1. Name of the Resource

  2. Author Statement

  3. Copyright Notice(s) 

  4. License, Link to License Terms

  5. A statement that the resource is a derivative work if any changes have been made

What can Library Services do to help with OER?

  • Assist students in accessing resources

  • Help faculty find alternatives to textbooks and identify existing OER materials

  • Advise on how to make resources more accessible

  • Advise on issues of copyright and Creative Commons licences

What Library Services Probably Cannot Do

  • Select textbook or course material

  • Make the final decision on the quality of a resource

  • Be a subject matter expert in your area