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Open Educational Resources Collective Publishing Workflow

Understand Copyright

Defining Copyright

Copyright is the right to control how your creative material (including textartistic worksmusic, computer programs, sound recordings and films) is used. As the copyright holder, you can prevent others from copying or communicating your material without your permission.

In Australia and New Zealand, copyright protection is automatic. Your material is protected as soon as you put it into material form by writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, coding, filming or recording it.

In Australia, copyright law is contained in the Copyright Act 1968New Zealand follows the Copyright Act 1994.

Copyright and Open Textbooks

Educators in Australia are probably familiar with the 'Ten Per Cent Rule' or statutory education licence (Section 113P of the Australian Copyright Act), which allows you to copy one chapter or up to ten per cent of a work for educational purposes. The New Zealand Copyright Act has a similar provision allowing copying and storing content for educational purposes.

While you can use this rule when creating course guides and reading lists shared with enrolled students behind an institutional login, it doesn't apply to published works like open textbooks.

Most publishers require you to seek permission before reproducing third party content like images, figures or substantial quotes in works that are publicly available.

Obtaining Copyright Permissions

Securing written copyright permissions can take weeks or even months, so you'll need to contact the copyright holders well in advance of writing your textbook to avoid publication delays.

Some publishers will ask you to pay them a fee in exchange for using their work. These can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per image or quote, so this can add up – especially if you’re publishing on a shoestring budget.

Others may refuse to grant permission altogether (it’s quite common for publishers to be concerned about potential loss of revenue from sharing their content in an open access work.) In this case, you’ll need to omit or remove their content, which can create structural issues if you’ve already started planning or writing your book.

Baseline Rights

Permissions – called ‘baseline rights’ – for sharing and re-use are built into Creative Commons licences. This makes CC licensed materials some of the cheapest and easiest content to use – after your own, of course!

However, some CC licences may conflict with the overall licence of your book. And some of the more restrictive CC licences prohibit changes to content (‘NoDerivatives’) or have licensing terms (‘ShareAlike’) which may not suit your goal.

This is why CC0 (‘No Rights Reserved’) or CC BY (‘Attribution’) content is always the safest option.

You can also use content in the public domain (content where copyright protections have been forfeited or expired) without requesting permission, although the copyright status of these works can be more complicated to determine.

Acknowledging Creators

You don’t need to acknowledge the creators of CC0 or public domain works (although this is still appreciated!). However, licences containing ‘CC BY’ require you to give credit by including what’s known as an ‘attribution statement’. In this statement, you’ll need to identify the creator and source and indicate if you made any changes using phrases like ‘adapted from’ or ‘derived’ from’. Online tools like Open Washington's Open Attribution Builder can help you write attribution statements. You’ll see examples of different attribution statements throughout these resources.

Getting Help with Copyright

Your university’s copyright team can provide more specific advice about what content you can and can’t use in your open textbook.


‘Defining Copyright’ was adapted from ‘What is Copyright?’ by Smartcopying, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Developing Authors' Understanding of Copyright

When you're working with authors to plan their open textbook, you’ll need to make sure they understand the content in the 'For Authors' section of this step. Many authors operate from the mistaken belief that copyright rules for publishing open textbooks are the same as for course materials shared behind an institutional login, and this is usually where problems arise.

You'll also need to ensure they understand the basics of CC licensing, as well as considerations for choosing the right Creative Commons licence for their book, like the third-party content they’re using and the rights they want to grant and retain.

Educating authors on their legal obligations when using third-party content – whether or not this is openly licensed – from day one will make copyright checking easier and prevent unnecessary publishing delays.

Planning for the Library's Contribution

Authors will require input from library staff at key points in the production process, across all stages of the workflow. Read through the guides in the workflow to see where library staff will need to work with authors on tasks such as copyright checking, peer review and publishing. Review the authors' time line and make a note of when you might expect to be called on to provide assistance.