Open Educational Resources: Creative Commons Licenses & Open Content

A collection of resources to help GVSU faculty find open-licensed textbooks and other educational materials for their courses.

Creative Commons: the basics

What are Creative Commons Licenses?

Copyright includes the right to give other people permission to use, share, and modify the copyrighted content.  Creative Commons licenses are an easy way for a copyright owner to grant certain kinds of permission to everyone who encounters the copyrighted work.

Creative Commons licenses are non-exclusive, so the copyright owner can still give other permissions, sell or transfer their copyright, or hold onto it themselves.  These licenses are explained in plain language, so it's easy to understand how someone can use a Creative Commons - licensed work.

How do Creative Commons licenses work?

To apply a Creative Commons license to your work, all you need to do is decide which license you want to use, and state that clearly in your work. You don't need to apply or register anywhere--remember, CC licenses are just a convenient way to grant permission to lots of people with a single statement.  

To use something that has a Creative Commons license, all you need to do is follow the terms of the license (see below).  Usually you need to give credit to the creator or author, and you may not be able to modify the work or use it for commercial benefit. Creative Commons has a guide to Best Practices for Attribution.  

For more information, check out the Creative Commons website, which includes:

What do CC Licenses Mean?

There are 6 basic Creative Commons license options, summarized here. Follow the links for each license to see a complete plain-language description.

  • Attribution (CC-BY 4.0)  Anyone may share and adapt the work in any way, even for commercial purposes. Users agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.

  • Attribution – ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA 4.0Anyone may share and adapt the work in any way. Any adaptation or new creation based on the work must be released under the same terms.  Users agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.

  • Attribution – Noncommercial (CC-BY-NC 4.0)  Anyone may share and adapt the work in any way, but may not use the material for commercial purposes. Users agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.

  • Attribution – Noncommercial – ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0)  Anyone may share and adapt the work in any way, but may not use the work for commercial purposes. Any adaptation or new creation based on the work must be released under the same terms.  Users agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.

  • Attribution – NoDerivatives  (CC-BY-ND 4.0)  Anyone may share the work, but may not make adaptations or other derivative works.  Users sharing the work agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.

  • Attribution – NoDerivatives – Noncommercial (CC-BY-ND-NC 4.0)  Anyone may share the work, but may not use it for commercial purposes and may not create adaptations or derivative works. Users sharing the work agree to provide appropriate credit to the author.


You may also encounter one other Creative Commons license statement:

  • Public Domain Dedication (CC-0)  The creator of this work waives all of their rights in the work.  The creator wants to let anyone use this work in any way, for any purpose, with no restrictions.  

The Public Domain

The Public Domain is everything that is not covered by copyright.  This includes:

  • Works which are no longer under copyright
    • Under U.S. copyright law, this is anything created before 1923. Many works created after 1923 are also eligible, but determining this gets very complicated very quickly. (Contact us for support!)
    • Exact representations of a Public Domain work are also in the public domain--for example, a digital scan of a Renaissance painting.
  • Works which cannot be copyrighted
    • Ideas, facts, methods and procedures, functional objects, titles, recipes, and more!
  • Works created by employees of the U.S. government as part of their job
  • Works which the creator has released into the Public Domain

The GVSU Libraries have more information about the Public Domain and where to find Public Domain resources

Other Open Options

Creative Commons licenses are the most common way of telling the public how a resource can be used, but they aren't the only option.

Many authors and creators choose to grant permissions which are narrower than Creative Commons licenses allow, but which still apply to nonprofit educational institutions and instructors.  Lots of software is released under open-source licenses, and many Open Educational Resources may be free to access and share, but don't carry a Creative Commons license.

Learn More About Copyright

  • Last Updated: Dec 9, 2019 9:49 AM
  • URL: https://libguides.gvsu.edu/oer