Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources

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The Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Educational resources are no longer static and scarce, but adaptable and widely available, allowing educational institutions, teachers, and learners to actively participate in a global exchange of knowledge via Open Educational Resources (OER). Creative Commons provides the legal and technical infrastructure essential to the long-term success of OER, making it possible for educational resources to be widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable.

Creative Commons Facilitates Innovation and Collaboration in Education

CC licenses help educators to broaden the impact of their own educational resources, to customize resources made similarly available by others to suit their own curriculum needs and the needs of their students, and to easily search for and find relevant OER.

CC enables translation of educational resources into different languages. A growing number of creators of educational resources are self-distributing their works openly via the Internet. When educational resources are released under a CC license permitting adaptations, anyone interested in the subject matter may translate those resources and otherwise customize them for local needs. For example, CC-licensed courses made available by MIT OpenCourseWare have been translated into at least 10 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, French, German, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.

CC enables educational resources to evolve and be improved through peer and student edits. CC licensed OER are living documents that can be built upon and improved not only by authors and publishers, but by colleagues and students as well. For example, when a University of Michigan professor was dissatisfied with currently available textbooks in his area of computer science, he was able to use an existing openly licensed textbook as the basis for developing a new book that met his needs, by changing the overall focus of the book, adding his own original content, and restructuring the original text.

CC enables easier discovery of educational resources on the web. CC licenses provide the legal infrastructure that allows OER to be shared, but there is an important technical component to sharing successfully as well. Creators of OER want to make sure their work is visible to users, and learners and educators need to be able to find resources relevant to their chosen subject. CC has further broadened the impact of OER by embedding each of its licenses with software code that makes the license terms machine-readable—that is—discoverable by a search engine. In addition to creating licenses that can be indexed by prominent search engines such as Google and Yahoo! CC is also exploring ways to improve search and discovery of OER by helping to build a common metadata vocabulary for educational resources via the Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI).
These are just a few examples of the kinds of innovative educational activity that CC’s legal and technical tools have enabled–not to mention opening up opportunities for new business models in educational publishing (e.g., CK-12 Foundation, Flat World Knowledge and Bloomsbury Academic, that publish textbooks and scholarly journals under CC licenses), new methods for professional development (e.g., the Siyavula project, helping South African teachers learn to share and collaborate around new curricular standards) and democratizing teaching and learning (e.g., Peer 2 Peer University, a grassroots education project for peers by peers).

How Creative Commons Makes Sharing, Adapting and Finding OER Easy

CC offers creators a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their work. CC licenses are built on top of copyright law, allowing creators to change their copyright terms from the default "all-rights-reserved" to "some rights reserved." Creators may choose among a suite of six CC licenses that are free-of-charge, easy to use, and help to standardize what is "open" on the Internet. A rights-holder may choose one or more of the following terms:

Attribution. All CC licenses require that others who use your work 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.

NonCommercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen No Derivative Works) modify your work, but not for commercial purposes unless they get your permission first.

ShareAlike. 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 your modified work under other terms, they must get your permission first.

NoDerivatives. 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.

CC is a global standard. CC licenses are the most widely used open content licenses in the world, and have been legally and linguistically adapted to more than 70 jurisdictions worldwide. Government bodies, universities, and libraries around the world leverage CC licenses to increase access to, and the impact of, their educational resources. For example, see European Schoolnet, a group of 31 Ministries of Education in the EU making educational resources available under CC BY, The OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of over 200 universities world-wide making high quality courses available under CC licenses, and, partnering with national library consortia to educate librarians about CC.

CC licenses are available in three different formats. The first is a human-readable deed that simplifies the terms of each license into a few universal icons and non-technical language. The second is the lawyer-readable terms of the license itself, which have been vetted by a global team of legal experts. And the final layer is the machine-readable code enables search and discovery.

The Success of OER Depends on Legal and Technical Interoperability

The OER movement is poised to greatly further global access to and participation in education, but only if a critical mass of educational institutions and communities interoperate legally and technically via Creative Commons. This will require institutions, teachers, and policymakers in all arenas to implement and recommend use of CC’s tools for educational resources.

Note: One of the fundamental design principles of all CC licenses is that of granting permission in advance to the public, without the need for users of the work to seek permission first. This feature is core to the success of OER and sharing. We actively discourage practices that interfere with or undermine that feature, particularly when those policies expressly require that users or some subset of users must ask permission first. Read more about the benefits of this feature.

Find more information about CC, including helpful FAQs and videos at


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