Thing 11 & 12: Copyright, OERs and Creative Commons

Thing 11: Copyright

Copyright is an area of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) that covers the rights of authors of creative works. IPR are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds (usually for a set period of time).

Copyright protection applies automatically – you don’t have to apply for it or pay a fee.

You automatically receive copyright protection when you create:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
  • original non-literary written work, e.g. software, web content and databases
  • sound and music recordings
  • film and television recordings
  • broadcasts
  • the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works

If you want you can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation, but whether you mark the work or not doesn’t affect the level of protection you have.

How copyright protects your work

Copyright prevents people from:

  • copying your work
  • distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
  • renting or lending copies of your work
  • performing, showing or playing your work in public
  • making an adaptation of your work
  • putting it on the internet

Copyright Overseas

Your work could be protected by copyright in other countries through international agreements. In most countries copyright lasts a minimum of life plus 50 years for most types of written, dramatic and artistic works, and at least 25 years for photographs. It can be different for other types of work.

*Source: ‘How copyright protects your work’,
Licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0


A licence is a permit from an authority to own or use something, or do a particular thing. For example a restaurant will need to obtain a licence to sell alcohol, and in some areas you will need a permit or a licence in order to go fishing. A copyright licence is the permission an author or publisher provides on how others may, and may not, re-use a copyrighted piece of work.

Many universities subscribe to the UK’s Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) which negotiates with publishers on their behalf to provide a licence. This licence allows certain use and reproduction of copyrighted works within a closed educational environment. Closed educational environments are the teaching spaces used by the teachers and their students only. This includes physical classrooms and password protected Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) online such as Moodle and Blackboard.

As more and more of our teaching and learning moves online and into open spaces, it’s very important to be aware that when we are teaching and learning outside of those closed learning environments, such as un-password-protected websites where anyone may view and access information, the CLA licenses no longer apply and if you use content without permission you may be in breach of copyright.

Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons is a global nonprofit organisation that provides creators with legal tools and licences they can apply to encourage the re-use and sharing of their own work. The Creative Commons licences have been designed to be user friendly and make the applying of a licence to your work something that is easy and accessible.

CC BY logo  Attribution (BY)

Every Creative Commons licence includes By Attribution (BY), this requires that the creator of the work be credited and a link (or URL) be provided back to the online source of the work.

In addition, the licence can include the following options:

CC BY-SA logo Share-Alike (SA)

You can remix, adapt, and build upon the resource even for commercial purposes, as long as you credit the author and ensure that a Share-Alike licence is also applied to any work incorporating their resource. In other words, any re-distribution of a resource that you create from this one will need to carry the same licence and be available to others to also re-use and re-share.

CC BY-ND logo No-Derivatives (ND)

You can re-use and re-share the work, for commercial and non-commercial purposes, as long as there are no edits, alterations, or adaptations, and the work is passed along unchanged and in whole.

CC BY-NC logo Non-Commercial (NC)

You can re-use and re-share the work so long as it is not for any commercial purposes. This can be tricky to navigate as the definition of what is commercial use/purposes can be much wider than many first anticipate. For example, not all educational uses are necessarily Non-Commercial uses, an NC license may prevent the use of the work in some educational contexts.

How to complete Thing 11

Step 1

Use another online platform to find two media files (image, video, or audio) that have a Creative Commons licence to use in a presentation in your field.

Step 2

Share this in a short post on your blog, identifying which licence has been applied to each of the media files and in what way they can be re-used, along with any reflections on what you have learnt about copyright, licences, and Creative Commons.

Additional Resources

Training sessions on how to understand copyright and licensed are run regularly by Information Services at The University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye out for upcoming events on the Open.Ed events webpage.

Creative Commons Wiki – A wiki with information on all aspects of Creative Commons licensing.

Copyright Hub UK – A webpage that aims to make copyright licensing easier to understand and use.

The Power of Open – An open book by Creative Commons sharing the stories of artists, publishers, performers, and creators who have used a variety of open licensing and commercial models to promote their work and make a living.

Thing 12: Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are online or digital resources that are available for others to use to support learning.  They are part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development – the use of the term “OER” is attributed to a UNESCO workshop in 2002.

Sometimes there can be a bit of confusion about what is considered open access and what makes a digital resource an OER.

Open Access refers to publications, resources, and materials that have been provided freely so anyone can view, access, read, listen, or watch.

Open Education Resources (OERs) refers to materials that have been licensed to allow for re-use. This means that depending on the licence, they can be re-user, shared, modified, and adapted by anyone.

As discussed in Thing 11 copyright automatically applies to creators of creative works, and by applying a licence to that work the author is stating how others may and may not use their work.

It’s important to note however, that just applying any licence will not qualify a resource as open.

Jordan Hatcher, a Director at the Open Knowledge Foundation and founder of the Open Data Commons project, clarifies this in a guest post on the Open Knowledge International Blog:

“The Open Definition, where “Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose(subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness)”,  means that only two out of the main six Creative Commons licenses are open content licenses — CC-BY and CC-BY-SA. The other four involve the two non-open license elements. These being No Derivatives (ND) restriction (prohibiting reuse), or have Non Commercial (NC) restrictions.

Creative Common’s public domain tools, such as CC0, all meet the Open Definition as well because they have no restrictions on use, reuse, and redistribution.”

The University of Edinburgh has an OER policy, which outlines the institutional position on supporting and encouraging the creation, use, and sharing of its teaching materials as OERs and provides guidelines for practice in learning and teaching. You can read the full policy document (updated in 2021) here:

How to complete Thing 12

Step 1

Explore Open.Ed and the Edinburgh OERs.

Step 2

Find an OER in your field and share it on your blog. To do this, use either the Edinburgh OERs, or the resources provided on the Open.Ed ‘Where to find OERs’ page.

Additional Resources

Training sessions on how to understand create, use, and share Open Educational Resources are run regularly by Information Services at The University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye out for upcoming events on the Open.Ed events webpage.

Open.Ed – The website for The University of Edinburgh’s OER service supporting staff and students in using OER. It includes guides on how to find and use Creative Commons on a variety of online platforms; a calendar of OER workshops and events across campus; up-to-date news and information; highlights best practice and OER exemplars; aggregates blogs from some our prominent open practitioners.

Open Media Bank –  A demonstrative collection of Creative Commons licensed media originally created for MOOCs, for sharing, reuse and remixing.

Open Media Snippets – A demonstrative collection of openly licensed media snippets for sharing, remixing and reuse. Search by subject or category: – Animals & Nature – Objects – People – Places – Science & Technology

Bonus Thing C

Have you or would you now consider creating and sharing any of your own materials as OER?

Write an additional post sharing your own OER or reflecting on what OER you may/may not want to openly licence.