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Learning Portal - OER Toolkit : Licensing


OER is based on a set of permissions that enable the use and modification of educational content. In this module, you will gain knowledge about the shift from traditional copyright to open licences, and how you can apply open licences to works you create, remix, and share. 

Licensing Quick Start Kit

Wanna Work Together?

When you create something, you automatically own the copyright to that creative work. But sometimes full copyright is too restrictive. What if you want your work to be freely shared, and built upon by the world? This video explains how Creative Commons provides free copyright licences so that creators such as yourself can stipulate how you want the public to use your work.

 Video Transcript

Turning a Resource into OER

Sometimes, creators want to start with resources that already exist, and remix them into new OER. This video walks through ten steps you’ll need to take in turning resources into OER—from finding out who originally created the resource, to seeking permission to include it in your OER, to selecting a Creative Commons licence that tells the public how you want your new resource to be used.

 Video Transcript

Additional Resources


About Copyright

Copyright matters, because as educators, we often use content created by others, and create content for others to use.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of legal protection that affords the copyright owner the exclusive rights to, among other things:

  1. Reproduce (copy)

  2. Distribute

  3. Publicly perform

  4. Publicly display

  5. Create “derivative works” (e.g., translations, revisions, other modifications)

Without permission from the copyright owner, or an applicable exception such as fair dealing under the Copyright Act, it is a violation of copyright law to exercise any of the copyright owner's exclusive rights.

What is a Copyright Licence?

A copyright licence is a grant of permission to use certain copyright rights. Copyright licences often have specific limitations that are outlined. For example, they may:

  • Be limited in time

  • Contain geographical restrictions

  • Only allow for educational uses

  • Only grant permission to use some of the copyright rights (for example, a licence may grant permission to download and distribute a work, but not the right to create derivative works)

When evaluating the permitted scope of uses, read all copyright language closely. Using a work in a manner that exceeds the scope of permissions granted in a licence is copyright infringement.

National and Local Copyright Policy

Under the Copyright Act of Canada, the author of the work is generally the owner of the copyright. However, if a work is created within the scope of the author’s employment, the employer holds the copyright unless there is an agreement to the contrary.

Check your college's copyright policies and intellectual property policies. Collective agreements or employment contracts can also affect copyright ownership. Contact your college library if you need more information, since they may be able to direct you to relevant policies and contacts.

Copyright Exceptions and Limitations

Public Domain

Works in the Public Domain are released from copyright protection, due to the expiration of their copyright or by designation by the copyright holder. This content may be used in any way by anyone. In Canada, with some exceptions, copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator.

Fair Dealing

In 2012, the Copyright Act of Canada was amended to add education as a purpose of fair dealing.

Linking to Copyrighted Materials

It is not a violation of copyright to link to copyrighted material, nor is it necessary to obtain permission from the copyright holder to, for example, links to a YouTube video in a presentation.

How to Determine Permissions

Follow this simplified checklist to determine the use permissions of the resources that you find online:

  • Look carefully at the resource you want to use and any information surrounding the resource to identify licensing information.

  • Also review the "about" and "terms of use" pages of the resource's website for permissions and licensing information.

  • If you cannot find a symbol or statement of the licence or the permissions for use, the copyright owner is probably retaining all of their exclusive rights.

Additional Notes:

  • In Canada, the majority of federal, provincial and territorial government works and records are protected by Crown copyright, and their copyright expires 50 years after the date of publication. However, the Government of Canada permits reproduction of its works for personal or public non-commercial purposes or for cost-recovery purposes under certain conditions.

  • Some provincial and territorial governments in Canada also allow reproduction of their works under certain restrictions. Check the respective government website for more information.

How to Seek Permission to Use a Work

Use the guidelines below to identify whether you need to seek permission from the copyright holder when repurposing existing materials as OER. You may also contact your college library for help on determining whether your intended use falls within a copyright exception or licence, or whether permission is required.

  • You DO NOT need to ask permission if:

    • The resource is in the public domain. However, note that if resources do reside in the public domain, they may contain within them copyrighted works, so examine the resource and read the terms of use carefully.

    • Your intended use falls within a copyright exception or limitation (such as fair dealing).

    • The way that you want to use the resource is in compliance with the terms of a copyright licence that applies to you (i.e., you already have permission in this case).

  • You DO need to ask permission if:

    • You wish to use a resource that is protected by copyright, and your intended use would be infringing copyright law.

    • You wish to use a resource in a way that is beyond the scope of the permission granted to users in an applicable copyright licence.

  • You should consider asking for permission if:

    • You are uncertain about whether your intended use is permitted by an applicable copyright licence.

    • You are uncertain about whether a work is protected by copyright.

    • You are uncertain about whether your intended use falls within a copyright exception or limitation (such as fair dealing).


Text is a derivative of Permissions Guide for Educators, by ISKME licensed under CC BY, 4.0.

Copyleft and Open Licensing

About Copyleft and Open Licensing

What is Copyleft?

Copyleft is a play on the word copyright. Copyleft is a strategy for encouraging the public's right to freely copy, share, modify and improve creative works and modified versions of those works. Copyleft describes any method that utilizes the copyright system to achieve these goals.

Copyleft as a concept is usually implemented in the details of a specific copyright licence, such as the Creative Commons Attribution Licence or the GNU General Public Licence that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution with no or limited restrictions. Copyright holders of creative works can choose these licences for their own works to build communities that collaboratively share and improve their creative works.


Definition of copyleft is a derivative of What is Copyleft? by, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

What are Open Licenses?

Open licences support creators that want to share their works freely and allow other users more flexibility to reuse and share the creators’ works. Specific benefits include:

  • Allowing others to distribute the work freely, which in turn promotes wider circulation than if an individual or group retained the exclusive right to distribute;

  • Reducing or eliminating the need for others to ask for permission to use or share the work, which can be time-consuming, especially if the work has many authors;

  • Encouraging others to continuously improve and add value to the work; and

  • Encouraging others to create new works based on the original work - e.g. translations, adaptations, or works with a different scope or focus.

OER are typically licensed under an open licensing system, with the most popular being the Creative Commons (CC) licensing system.


Text is a derivative of Guide to Open Licensing, by Open Knowledge International, licensed under CC BY 4.0

Creative Commons Licences

Creative Commons licences allow creators to retain certain rights while waiving some rights. There are six types of Creative Commons licence. All require attribution to the original creator(s). The creator can add on other restrictions such as non-commercial uses only and no derivative works. The six licences include:

  • CC0In general, you may treat the resource as if it were in the public domain.

  • CC attribution to the author/creator required.

  • CC BY-SA Attribution required, and you agree to licence new derivative versions of the resource that you create under CC BY-SA as well.

  • CC BY-NC Attribution required; non-commercial use only; commercial use requires a separate, negotiated licence.

  • CC BY-ND Attribution required; no derivative works permitted; creation of derivative works requires a separate, negotiated licence.

  • CC BY-NC-ND This licence is the most restrictive of our six main licences. It allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

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