2.2 Creative Commons for open licensing

Creative Commons logo
Image: Creative Commons logo, licensed CC0

Creative Commons (CC) licences are the most widely used form of open content licensing globally. CC licences permit creators to retain copyright on their work, but grant a specific set of permissions to others to use and adapt their work. Once a resource has a CC licence attached to it, it becomes an open educational resource or OER. In the short video below, Cable Green (Creative Commons) briefly explains how CC licences work:

If you wish to use, reuse and possibly create and share OER, it is worth taking some time to become familiar with Creative Commons licensing. This will enable you to identify suitable OER to use in your own teaching, and to understand how you can use, share, modify and re-share resources that you create. A later section, License your OER, goes through the specific steps required to create your own OER.

Every individual CC licence communicates to potential users the terms under which they can use a resource. There are four CC licence elements:

  • BY — The ‘BY’ or Attribution licence element requires that users of the resource attribute the licensor (copyright holder) of the resource. All CC licences (excluding CC0) include the attribution element
  • SA — The ‘SA’ or Share Alike licence element requires that all derivative works that include this resource be shared using the same licence
  • NC — The ‘NC’ or Non-Commercial licence element requires that the resource is “not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation”, i.e. commercial usage rights are withheld
  • ND — The ‘ND’ or No Derivatives licence element allows the resource to be shared, but prohibits adaptation, translation or modification of the resource in any way


These four licence elements are combined in various ways (as shown below) to create the six main Creative Commons licences. As you can see, all six of these CC licences include the attribution (BY) element, meaning anyone using a resource with this licence must attribute the creator/copyright holder. Note that CC licences are written in the format ‘CC’ followed by a space and then the relevant licence elements combined with hyphens.

6 Creative Commons licences
Image: 6 CC licences, designed by Markus Büsges, CC BY-SA 4.0 (Wikimedia)

In addition to these six main CC licences is a CC0 Public Domain licence which does not require attribution. In the image below, licences shown at the top of the spectrum are the most open and permissive of reuse by others; licences at the bottom are the most restrictive:

Creative Commons licence spectrum, showing CC licences from most to least open
Image: CC license spectrum by Shaddim, CC BY 4.0 (Wikimedia)

Creative Commons licence information is often displayed in the caption of an image (as shown above), the footer of a webpage (as shown at the bottom of each page in this resource), and/or at the beginning or end of a document. This ‘Using OER and OEP for Teaching and Learning’ resource is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 licence, as are all National Forum resources. This means that anyone is free to share and adapt this resource, in full or in part, for any purpose; the only requirement is to provide attribution to the National Forum as the owner/copyright holder (see OER attribution for further details about how to do this).

It is important to understand the different types of CC licences as both a potential user and creator of OER. As a potential OER user, you will review others’ OER to find material to reuse; the terms of the licence will specify exactly how you may reuse the resource. As a potential OER creator, you will need to think about what types of reuse, modification, translation and remix of your work you will permit before you select your CC licence (these considerations are dealt with in more detail in a later section Licence your OER).

The following short video describes each of the various CC licence elements, and why they might be chosen:

The Creative Commons website www.creativecommons.org is also an excellent resource for learning more about how CC licences work. See for example: What the licenses do.

National Forum open licensing resources


The University of Cambridge has produced a quiz on licensing and Creative Commons. After a short primer on CC licenses and how they can be applied to your work, the short quiz involves matching resources with the most suitable license to test your knowledge. Test your CC knowledge!

2.1 OER and copyright in Ireland
2.3 Finding and evaluating OER