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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Open educational resources for CSUDH faculty

What is an open license?

Keep in mind that all materials are automatically copyrighted, even if they are free to view on the web. An open license sits on top of the copyright for a document and specifies what can and cannot be done with a work. It grants permissions and states restrictions.

Broadly speaking, an open license is one that grants permission to access, re-use and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions (definition from

Why should we care about open licenses? Want to edit existing OER texts to add more diverse perspectives or make the materials more accessible? This is made possible by open licenses. Want to involve your students as creators of course materials and/or build upon work from previous classes? Open licenses help facilitate this.

Traditional copyright (all rights reserved) versus openly licensed content

Comparing traditional copyright to open licenses
Traditional copyright: Open license:
  • Automatically granted at the moment of creation - no further steps needed
  • Copyright holder may give permission for certain uses if you contact them (this can take a long time)
  • You can make a fair use argument for educational reuse without the copyright holder’s permission, but that argument is only good for your course
  • You add an open license to your work to let users know which permissions you grant 
  • Copyright holder specifies permission in advance for certain uses of their work (shortcut!)
  • You can share your open course widely because downstream users already have permission to reuse all the content under the terms of the open license

Creative Commons

There are many open licenses developed for different areas of knowledge. However, when it comes to open educational resources the most typical and common open licenses used are Creative Commons Licenses.

In 2001, inspired by the open source software license movement, a group of experts comprised of educators, technologists, legal scholars, investors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists gathered together to come up with a set of copyright licenses that would allow creators to easily share materials that were not software code, such as blogs, photos, films, books, etc.

They founded a nonprofit organization called Creative Commons and developed the first set of open licenses in 2002. These Creative Commons licenses brought clarity and ease to sharing materials online.

Decoding CC Licenses

Understanding CC Licenses
cc by CC-BY: Users can do the 5 R’s with the work as long as they provide attribution.
cc by sa CC BY Share-Alike: Users provide attribution AND license their derivative work exactly the same way as the original.
cc by nc CC BY Non-Commercial: Users provide attribution AND are not allowed to use the work for any commercial purpose.
cc by nd CC BY No Derivatives: The work can’t be changed, so users can’t do the 5 R’s. Doesn’t meet the definition of open educational resources!



Content in this section was adapted from "Open Licenses" by Amy Hofer, Open Oregon Educational Resources, licensed under CC Attribution.
Other sources: "Open License" by Boyoung Chae, Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, licensed under CC BY 4.0.