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2. Copyright and the role for Creative Commons licences

When deciding what materials to use in teaching and learning, it is essential to understand which licence applies and how you can use each resource. When a piece of creative work such as an image, video or textbook is produced, the creator of the work has certain legal rights. These are intended to protect the rights of the creator and, as a consequence, restrict the ability of others to use or reuse that material without seeking permission from the creator. This is known as copyright, and it applies automatically to all works unless the creator chooses otherwise.

The copyright notice © is a familiar symbol online. However, the presence or not of the symbol is not necessarily helpful in determining whether or not one can use a resource because sometimes copyrights expire, and in some cases it is no longer necessary to use the symbol – in the USA, for example, the symbol is no longer required for works published after March 1989. Absence of notice does not necessarily mean the work is within the public domain – on the contrary, copyright must be assumed to be in place unless stated otherwise.

Intellectual property is a broader term that incorporates copyright and other elements such as patents. This is where Creative Commons (CC) licensing has filled a potentially very confusing gap.

Activity 2 Interpreting Creative Commons licences

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes
Described image
Figure 3 Creative Commons combinations
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The ‘Creative Commons Kiwi’ video explains the four different symbols you find on a Creative Commons licence, and the six possible combinations of these. This page [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] also provides explanations of each of the licences if you prefer to use a text version. Make notes on the four symbols and six combinations so that you will be able to refer to these to interpret Creative Commons licences in future. If relevant, note down the last time you saw a resource featuring these symbols.

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Creative Commons licences are an essential part of sharing or reusing teaching resources online. You need to be able to identify at a glance the reuse conditions attached to any resource you decide to use, and you should of course apply licences to any work you share more widely, too.

Creative Commons licences make it easier to identify whether an online resource can be reused, modified and used for commercial purposes (i.e. making money) or requires application of an identical licence to the resulting work.