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Open Educational Resources (OERs): Copyright

Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.

Why copyright?

The purpose of copyright is to:

"...promote the progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." - U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8

With advances in technology and with copyrighted works being created in a multitude of formats, it is hard to determine what is and what isn't copyrighted. It is also hard to determine what is and what isn't a lawful use of these materials. This page includes resources to guide you in understanding copyright, fair use provisions, and useful resources containing materials with liberal licenses or that are in the public domain and free of copyright protections.

Determining Copyrights

Public Domain Works

Any of the following resources contain works in the public domain that you may use without copyright restrictions. Public domain works are generally those that were published before January 1st, 1978, or those produced by governmental bodies. Use the copyright slider, linked in the Determining Copyrights box, to see if works might fall in the public domain.

Creative Commons

creative commons logoMore and more, rights holders are copyrighting their works with Creative Commons licenses. These licenses are generally much more permissive, and clearly designate how works may be used. 

Fair Use

Fair use is a provision of copyright law that enables unlicensed uses of copyrighted works. To determine if your use is fair, four factors are considered:

  • the purpose of use;
  • the nature of the use;
  • the amount of the work used; and
  • the use's effect on the market.

These factors are only guidelines to consider when using copyrighted works. Use the checklist, linked below, to help you consider whether your intended use of copryighted works fall under fair use protections.