As the author of an open textbook, whether it’s in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection or not, it’s important that you have a good understanding of open licensing to ensure your open educational resource (OER) can be widely used, shared, and remixed while avoiding any copyright infringement concerns.

We’ve developed this page to provide basic information for open textbook authors, but should you have questions or concerns about your copyright, or the use of a work you hold the rights to, please contact an intellectual property/copyright expert at your institution or where available. Copyrights vary from country to country, so it’s best to consult with a professional with knowledge and experience for your particular situation.

Visit our overview of Creative Commons and open licences for a general introduction to open licences.

Creating or adapting an open textbook

We have created openly available resources to help you produce a new, or modify an existing, open textbook. The Self-Publishing Guide can help you create a new open textbook, and the Adaptation Guide walks you through adapting or revising an existing resource.

“Under the following terms”

At BCcampus, we use a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence for most of our open educational resources, including open textbooks we publish. This means that copyright is maintained by the author (or, in some cases, their institution) to the work they create, and they grant permission for the work to be shared, used, and modified as long as the use abides by the conditions in the CC BY 4.0 Licence.

The human-readable summary of the CC BY 4.0 Licence states:

You are free to:

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material

for any purpose, even commercially.

Under the following terms:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the licence, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the licence permits.

One licence for the entire textbook

The licence you choose for your open textbook is applied to the entire work, and elements in the textbook must fit that license, except where otherwise noted.

If you’ve ever purchased a stock image to visually represent an idea in your lesson, you probably paid for a one-time use of that creative work. The licence covering that image gives you the right to use it in a specific situation, for example, in your slideshow presentation, but does not give you the right to share it in works that you have created for distribution. Conversely, if the image you include is part of the public domain, you can include it in your own creation as there are no ownership claims for that particular work, but be aware, content in the public domain can vary country to country.

Even if you attribute the work, if the copyright holder has not made it openly available they can take legal action against you for violating their copyright. Creative Commons has an excellent resource on best practices for attribution to show the good – and not-so-good – approaches to attribution.

Legal concerns

Just because you found it with Google, doesn’t mean you have permission to use it. Do your due diligence to determine which rights apply to the item you plan to include in your open textbook. If you cannot find a statement that declares the work you want to use is in the public domain, or that an open licence covers it, it’s probably best to avoid using it, else risk violating someone’s rights to their material.

As the author of an open textbook, it is your responsibility to ensure that everything in your open textbook complies with your chosen licence. This includes original copy (text), as well as pictures, graphs, diagrams, and multimedia.

Exceptions to copyright ownership: employment

Section 13(3) of Canada’s Copyright Act1 explains that one’s employer owns copyright. Jean-Sébastien Dupont and Guillaume Lavoie Ste-Marie, from the law firm Smart & Biggar, Fetherstonhaugh, describe it this way: “if the work is created in the course of employment under a contract of service, and absent any agreement to the contrary, the employer will be the owner of the copyright (emphasis added) in the work created by the employee without the need for a formal assignment.”2

Copyright laws around the world vary, but essentially, they are there to protect your right to sell or distribute your work as you see fit. By publishing your work through an open licence, you are allowing your work to be shared broadly and widely, without giving up ownership of your creative works.

  1. Copyright Act. (1985) retrieved Sept 11, 2018 from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/page-4.html?txthl=employment#s-13
  2. Jean-Sébastien Dupont and Guillaume Lavoie Ste-Marie, “Do you actually own the IP generated by your Canadian employees?” Smart & Biggar – Fetherstonhaugh, June 16, 2014, http://www.smart-biggar.ca/en/articles_detail.cfm?news_id=866 (accessed December 13, 2017).