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Open Educational Resources Collective Publishing Workflow

Understand the Basics of Creative Commons Licensing

Before you start planning your project, you’ll need to ensure you understand copyright considerations for OER and open textbooks and how these differ from other types of educational materials. This includes understanding how open licences like Creative Commons licences work.

What is an Open Licence? 

In copyright terms, a licence specifies what you can and can’t do with a copyrighted work such as an image, video or written text. Licences are usually very restrictive, prohibiting copying or redistribution except in a few special circumstances.

An open licence grants rights to access, re-use and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions.

For example, an image on a website made available under an open licence would be free for anyone to:

  • print out and share
  • publish on another website or in print
  • make alterations or additions.

There are many forms of open licences, one of the most common of which is a Creative Commons licence.

What is a Creative Commons Licence? 

Creative Commons is a set of standardised licence features used to licence copyrighted works (including music, artistic, literary and video works) for public use. Creative Commons works are free to use provided the licence terms are followed.

allicons Creative Commons licences can contain any of the following conditions:

Creative Commons Attribution icon Attribution (BY) – you must acknowledge the creator of the original work (in most CC licences)

Creative Commons Non Commercial icon NonCommercial (NC) – you can only use the work for non-commercial purposes

Creative Commons No Derivatives icon NoDerivatives (ND) – you can’t make any changes when sharing the work

Creative Commons Share Alike icon ShareAlike (SA) – you must share any adaptations under the same Creative Commons licence as the original work

Creative Commons Zero icon Zero – the creator hasn’t placed any copyright restrictions on the work

Public Domain icon Public Domain – the work is in the public domain.

These conditions can be combined to form the six Creative Commons licences (CC0 is not considered a true CC licence).

You can read more about how each CC licence works on the Licence Deeds.

Once you understand how open licensing works, you’re ready to choose the best Creative Commons licence for your open textbook.

Textbooks created in the OER Collective use CC BY-NC 

We recommend the use of a CC BY-NC licence when publishing textbooks on the OER Collective Pressbooks platform.

What content can I use in my textbook if licensing it CC BY-NC?


  • Anything you have received permission to use from the copyright owner.



‘What is an Open Licence?’ is based on ‘Open Licences and Creative Commons’ by Open Textbook Initiative, which was adapted from ‘Open Guide to Licensing’ by Open Knowledge Foundation, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

‘What is a Creative Commons Licence?’ is based on ‘Open Licences and Creative Commons’ by Open Textbook Initiative, adapted from BC Campus OpenEd, licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Content from the Creative Commons website is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.