Open (Free) Textbooks: Creative Commons Licences

Information and instruction for MP lecturers/teachers about locating, evaluating, and adapting or adopting free textbooks for their subjects, courses or students

Essential Information!

The Importance of Observing Copyright

A reminder about copyright

Before any attempts are made to use or adapt an Open Textbook, care must be taken to understand the copyright and licensing issues.

Carefully read and note the information in this section before progressing any further into your exploration of Open Textbooks.

Copyright: The Basics

Copyright is a form of legal protection, automatically provided to authors of original creative works (literature, images, music, etc.).

This is important, because:
if your search for an Open Textbook involves any desire to find and alter a textbook in any way (reproduce, upload, remix, etc)  without consideration of the copyright status of the work (and without checking that it has a license that enables you to make these changes) you may be operating illegally under the copyright protection afforded to the author.

Read on ...
In the next column, you will learn about Creative Commons licenses, and how they facilitate the Open Textbook movement - enabling you to enjoy a number of freedoms (with author approval) to use, adapt and remix the publications of others.

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Creative Commons Licences: The Basics

Creative Commons (aka CC) is a licensing system that enables authors to personally select the terms under which their work may be copied, modified, remixed or adapted.  CC provides authors with a range of licence types, each of them offering potential users of the works a set of conditions by which they must abide.  CC licensing provides the user of another person's work with freedoms that are not available to them under Copyright.

CC Licences

Creative Commons provides six licence types, each carrying different benefits and restrictions.  In terms of choosing an Open Textbook, there is one licence that is regarded as providing the least restrictive conditions under which people may use the material:  the CC-BY 4.0 (Attribution) license.

CC-BY 4.0 Explained

The table (below) indicates the properties of the CC-BY 4.0 (Attribution) license.  It shows you exactly what the license allows you to do with the material you have chosen.  

The CC-BY-4.0 licence allows you to:
  copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format  
Adapt:  remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially

You are required to observe the following terms:  
  give appropriate credit, provide a link to the licence, and indicate if changes were made.  You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use. 

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Sources on this page

Attribution:  The information in this section of the Open Textbooks LibGuide ("CC Licences") has been adapted and modified under the provisions of CC-BY 4.0 (Attribution).  The creator of the original image is Piotrek Chuchla"OERs and Open Licenses - Open American"  licensed under CC-BY 3.0. (an earlier version of CC-BY 4.0 (Attribution).

Licence Deeds

All CC licences are accompanied by a "licence deed".  The licence deed provides details of the conditions you must meet in order to take advantage of the material that is published under the licence.  Simply, it sets the rules for what you may, or may not do.  The licence deed will provide you with the information you need to establish whether or not that licence suits you (both in terms of using other people's work, or publishing your own work). The other five CC licence types are listed below.  

Check the deeds for each license here 

  1. CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike)

  2. CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivatives)

  3. CC BY-NC  (Attribution-NonCommercial)

  4. CC BY-NC-SA  (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike)

  5. CC BY-NC-ND  (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives)

Open Texts: Are they free?

Are Open Textbooks really "free"? 

Not only are Open Textbooks cost "free", but are also "free" of many of the restrictions of copyright, thanks to the generosity of their creators who share their works by assigning CC licences to them.  However, depending on the CC licence, they may come with restrictions. 

Your task, as an explorer of potentially useful Open Textbooks, is to ensure that you fully understand the licensing systems, and diligently check your chosen text to ascertain if the licence attached to it provides you with the freedoms that you want.