An important element of open educational resources, specifically open textbooks in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection, is that they are openly licensed, but what does that mean?
Open licences enable collaboration, development, access, and inspiration from your creative works without requiring you to give up the rights (copyright) automatically granted to you for your creation.
An open licence lets you retain ownership of your work, while allowing others to use, share, and remix it, without requesting your permission. For most open licences, all that is required of the users is to attribute you for your work.
What is a copyright?
Whenever you produce a new creative work – whether that’s a new song or story, a picture or a painting, a slideshow or study guide – you are automatically granted a copyright where all your rights are reserved. You don’t need to do anything to be granted a copyright, and it’s intended to protect your work from being used in ways you don’t want, without your express permission.
To freely share your creative work, including open textbooks, without requests for permission, you can dedicate your work to the public domain, or license it openly.
Items in the public domain are not protected by intellectual property laws, including copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Public domain belongs to the public – no individual can claim any right to the material, and it can be used by anyone without obtaining permission.
Here are four of the typical ways that works end up in the public domain:
- The copyright has expired
- The existing copyright owner failed to renew the copyright
- The work was dedicated to the public domain
- Copyright law is not applicable to this type of work (example: short phrases, facts and theories, and U.S. government works)
*Copyright law varies from country to country, and a work can be in the public domain in one country, but not necessarily in another.
You can choose an open licence to maintain your copyright while enabling the public to use and remix your creative work. An open licence grants permissions and states restrictions; the specific permissions granted depend on the type of open licence you choose. For the open textbooks in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection, we use licences from Creative Commons to create access to these materials across the province and around the world.
Creative Commons (CC) is a global body that provides open-copyright licences, so as an author, you can give your permission to share and reuse your creative work, with the conditions you choose.
At BCcampus, most of our resources are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence, which means you are free to share and adapt the content, as long as you give appropriate credit, provide a link to the licence, and indicate if changes were made.
The copyright licences offered through Creative Commons grant specific permissions depending on the licence you choose for your work. The licences include:
Attribution (BY) – This licence allows others to distribute, change, remix, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This licence gives anyone using your work the most permissions.
Attribution (BY) ShareAlike (SA) – This licence allows others to distribute, change, remix, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This licence is often compared to open source software licences. You, and anyone using your new version of this work, must release these adaptations with the same (“share alike”) CC BY-SA licence.
Attribution (BY) NonCommercial (NC) – This licence allows others to distribute, change, remix, and build upon your work as long as they credit you for the original creation. However, they cannot sell it or profit from it except to recuperate the costs of printing, for example. It is a nonprofit licence.
Attribution (BY) NonCommercial (NC) ShareAlike (SA) – This licence allows others to distribute, change, remix, and build upon your work as long as they credit you for the original creation. However, you cannot sell it or profit from it except to recuperate the costs of printing, for example. It is a nonprofit licence. You, and anyone using your new version of this work, must release these adaptations with the same (“share alike”) CC BY-NC-SA licence.
Attribution (BY) NoDerivatives (ND) – This licence allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. There are a limited number of textbooks with ND restrictions in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection. These are accepted on a case-by-case basis.
Attribution (BY) NonCommercial (NC) NoDerivatives (ND) – This licence is the most restrictive of the six main Creative Commons licences, allowing redistribution. This licence is often called the “free advertising” licence because it allows others to download and share your work with others as long as they credit you, but they must be passed along unchanged and in whole or use them commercially. It is a nonprofit licence.
Open licensing is a complex topic, but it’s important to have a good understanding of your copyrights for the work you create, as well as the works you use, modify, and share. We’ve shared a few articles on BCcampus that provide additional insight and information about open licensing and Creative Commons, and the Open Education team is an excellent resource for questions regarding copyright and open licensing.