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OER: Copyright

Copyright law

Copyright is about protecting creators. Whenever someone creates something new by putting pen to paper, choreographing a dance, designing a graph, or taking a photo — it is theirs from the moment of its creation forward. And the creator's rights to benefit from that work (literary, artistic, musical, dramatic, written or unwritten) — financially or otherwise — is protected by law.

Copyright law protects authors from having their works copied without their permission. (Title 17 of the United States Code; Copyright Act of 1976).

When the creator of a work dies, the rights to benefit from a work passes to his/her family and continues for 70 years after the creator's death; at that point, the work enters the 'public domain.'

“Copyright Law.” Evaluating Internet Information, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia,

Public domain

PUBLIC DOMAIN: Works which are not owned by someone, and therefore not protected by copyright.

A work may be in the public domain because:

  • Created before copyright laws (example: The Iliad, Canterbury Tales),

  • its copyright protection has expired (example: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale),

  • it never had copyright protection or its protection was lost (example: a work published before March 1, 1989 and did not carry a copyright notice),

  • it was dedicated to the public domain.

In addition, the following items are never covered by copyright:

  • works created by the U.S. government (except under contract).

  • reprints of works in the public domain (but a license may restrict use.)

  • ideas, facts, and common property (i.e., calendars and phone books)

  • federal laws and court decisions

  • words, names, slogans and phrases

  • most blank forms

  • recipes, discoveries, procedures, and systems (but not the words that describe them.)

Initial US copyright Current copyright status
before 1923 Public domain
1923-1963 Still protected by copyright law if the copyright was renewed; check for renewal at Stanford Copyright Renewal Database and the Library of Congress Copyright Database to cover the entire date range.
1964-1977 Still protected by copyright law. Protected 28+67=95 years from initial copyright date.
1978- Still protected by copyright law; however, these rules are very complex. Generally speaking copyright protection ends 70 years after death of author.

Just because an item is old doesn't guarantee that it is part of the public domain. If you're at all uncertain, get permission from the creator or owner to use or copy the work.

Creative Commons

Licensing types
The following describes each of the six main licenses offered when you choose to publish your work with a Creative Commons license. We have listed them starting with the most accommodating license type you can choose and ending with the most restrictive license type you can choose.

License Conditions
Creators choose a set of conditions they wish to apply to their work.

Attribution Attribution (by)

All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.

ShareAlike ShareAlike (sa)

You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.

NonCommercial NonCommercial (nc)

You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.

NoDerivatives NoDerivatives (nd)

You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Although OER are free to be used, one of the key tenets of that usage is attribution. Depending on the specifics of a resource’s licensing terms, you will at least need to acknowledge the work’s creator. 

A lack of specific attribution instructions does not mean that a work should not be attributed. Rather, you must put together an attribution statement to the best of your ability. This statement should include: 

  1. Any copyright notices posted by the copyright holder

  2. Some form of identification of the author (a screen name is acceptable if you cannot locate an author name)

  3. The name of the resource

  4. The license, and if possible, a link to the license terms

  5. If you have made any changes to the resource, a statement that this is a derivative work

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