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Open Educational Resources (OER)

This guide--a work in progress--provides information for learning about open educational resources (OER) and curates a collection of OER repositories for use by Western faculty and staff.


"Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device" (17 U.S.C. § 102).

In plain English, copyright is a creator's exclusive right to duplicate, distribute, tweak, remix, or publicly perform or display their works. Copyright protects fixed, original, and creative works. Further, copyright protection exists whether or not there is a notice included with the work--it is presumed the moment a work is created and fixed in a tangible form. 

Public Domain

Public domain refers to works that are not protected by copyright and belong to the public. These works may be used in any way without permission from the creator. Typically works enter the public domain because the copyright term has expired or because the creator has donated the work to the public domain.

Creative Commons Licenses

OER are either in the public domain or have an open license, which gives users rights to do more than traditional copyright would allow. These open licenses are assigned by the creator of the work and define what is and is not permissible to do with the work. Before using a resource, it's important to understand what rights or restrictions you may have in using the work. 

Creative Commons licenses are used frequently in the OER community. "Creative Commons licenses provide an easy way to manage the copyright terms that attach automatically to all creative material under copyright. [These] licenses allow that material to be shared and reused under terms that are flexible and legally sound. Creative Commons offers a core suit of six copyright licenses" (from

Descriptions of the licenses, below, are quoted from and used with permission, thanks to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

The Six Creative Commons Licenses

License Graphic License Name License Description


This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. 


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes. as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms...All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.


This license lets others reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially; however, it cannot be shared with others in adapted form, and credit must be provided to you.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms.


This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.


This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but the can't change them in any way or use them commercially.


Fair Use

Fair use offers an exception to the exclusive copyright protections granted to a creator. Fair use enables limited use of works--typically for purposes of criticism, comment, reporting, teaching, or research--without obtaining permission from the creator or copyright holder. There isn't a definite rule as to whether a use of a work is "fair," but rather the following four factors must be considered:

  1. Purpose and character of the use
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work
  3. Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market value

The Copyright and Fair Use Guide from Stanford University Libraries offers a more comprehensive discussion of these four factors. 

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