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OER Toolkit


About Copyright

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

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.

For additional information on copyright literacy, see the Learning Portal's Copyright Literacy Module.

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.

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.

Public Domain

Works in the Public Domain are released from copyright protection, due to 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 70 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, link to a YouTube video in a presentation.

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.
Seek Permission

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

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 - opens in a new window, 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.

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 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 BYAttribution to the author/creator required.
  • CC BY-SAAttribution required, and you agree to licence new derivative versions of the resource that you create under CC BY-SA as well.
  • CC BY-NCAttribution required; non-commercial use only; commercial use requires a separate, negotiated licence.
  • CC BY-NDAttribution required; no derivative works permitted; creation of derivative works requires a separate, negotiated licence.
  • CC BY-NC-NDThis 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.

Watch the video or read the Creative Commons Kiwi video transcript. This short video explains the six Creative Commons Licences, by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

Open Licence Conditions

As a creator of OER, you can choose the conditions of reuse and modification by selecting one or more of the restrictions listed below:

Attribution (BY) icon

Attribution (BY)

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request.

Non-commercial (NC) icon

Non-commercial (NC)

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for non-commercial purposes only.

Share Alike (SA) icon

Share Alike (SA)

You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the licence that governs your work

No Derivative Works (ND) icon

No Derivative Works (ND)

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.


Text a derivative of definitions provided in A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources by Commonwealth of Learning, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Which Licence? A Use Case

In this animated video, Michelle develops a chapter on metabolism for an open textbook. She uses her teaching notes for the text of the chapter, and finds openly licensed images and exercises to accompany the text. She also determines which Creative Commons licence to assign to her finished chapter before sharing it.

Watch the video or read the Creating OER and Combining Licenses video transcript.

Additional Resources

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