Copyright and Creative Commons



The purpose of this module is to:

  • Examine issues of copyright from an educational framework for your own geographic/ work related context
  • Analyze and apply Creative Commons licensing categories
  • Search Creative Commons collections for resources encompassing a variety of CC license categories
  • Model awareness of creative commons licenses by:
    • Applying the use of a creative commons licenses to a unique image or creative media content you have produced
    • Curating a set of CC licensed resources with related attribution information for a designated purpose

Illustrations showing a robber and the words copyright assumes that people are inherently bad and a woman with the words creative commons assumes that people are inherently good

Module Designer

Hi. I’m Helen DeWaard, instructor of Media and Digital Literacy at Lakehead, Orillia in the Faculty of Education. I’m a CC advocate and have presented at the CC Global Summit the past two years. I’ve supported local and national projects with CC awareness campaigns. I’m using a CC license on most of my digital and creative works as a way to engage with others, as seen on these sketches shared on the #101 Open Stories site. I’m not a CC expert, but will link you to learn more about copyright, fair use and the creative commons community.


The purpose of this module is to:

  • Examine issues of copyright from an educational framework for your own geographic/ work related context
  • Analyze and apply Creative Commons licensing categories
  • Search Creative Commons collections for resources encompassing a variety of CC license categories
  • Model awareness of creative commons licenses by:
    • Applying the use of a creative commons licenses to a unique image or creative media content you have produced
    • Curating a set of CC licensed resources with related attribution information for a designated purpose

FIRST TASK: Open a word processing document where you can collect and save your work as you progress through this module. You will then be able to copy and paste from your word processing document into the discussion modules and/or quiz responses, as required.

What is Copyright?

Copyright legislation varies from region to region, in this module some Canadian and U.S. examples will be used.

“In the simplest terms, "copyright" means "the right to copy." In general, copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It includes the right to perform the work or any substantial part of it or, in the case of a lecture, to deliver it. If the work is unpublished, copyright includes the right to publish the work or any substantial part of it.” – Government of Canada, A Guide to Copyright

What about assignments and licenses?

“An assignment occurs when a copyright owner transfers part or all of their rights to another party. The assignment may be for the whole term of the copyright or for a certain part of it.”

“A licence allows someone else to use a work for certain purposes and under certain conditions. The copyright owner still retains ownership.” – Government of Canada, A Guide to Copyright

You can read more Essential Knowledge about Copyright from the Creative Commons Certification Course – CC BY Copyright Basics

History of Copyright

Copyright is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to believe that it’s a law of nature, like gravity. However, copyright is a relatively recent social invention, as you can learn by reading the introduction to this History of Copyright.

Purpose of Copyright

The purpose of copyright depends specifically on the jurisdiction in which you live. In some jurisdictions the purpose of copyright is to provide financial incentives to would-be creators to create. In other jurisdictions, the purpose of copyright is to recognize and protect the natural connection between a creator and her works.

The Types of Works Protected by Copyright

Copyright protects a broad range of creative works. For a thorough listing of the kinds of things protected by copyright, see What is Protected? In the over 160 nations that have adopted the Berne Convention, all the works protectable by copyright are automatically copyrighted from the moment they are created, eliminating the need to register or place a notice on a work in order to receive copyright protection.

TASK: Take a look for copyright information for your geographic location that is specific to your context - i.e. education, industry, work related, etc. Do a general search and collect links to 4-5 sources of credible information for future reference. Be ready to share these in your discussion post.

What about FAIR USE?

For educators, the FAIR USE of copyrighted resources and materials is a permission that supports the use of copyrighted materials for educational purposes. This is a contributing factor in the confusion about copyright when explaining this concept in educational contexts. 

TASK: Make a choice of which video to view. Make jot notes from the video content into your word processing work space.

WATCH: Copyright, CC & Fair Use  [4:33 min]


WATCH: Copyright Basics for Teachers  [7:51 min]

What is Creative Commons?

Begin this section by watching the video ‘A Shared Culture’ [3:20 min] created by filmmaker Jesse Dylan for Creative Commons (CC). In this video, leading thinkers behind the Creative Commons organization describe how CC helps “save the world from failed sharing”.

Then watch the video Wanna Work Together [3:00 min] 

TASK: Capture some jot notes from these videos into your work processing work space.

The Creative Commons organization “develops, supports and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing and innovation” in order to “create a vibrant, usable, and collaborative global commons of openly licensed content that drives access, equity, and innovation across all disciplines”. The program areas include licenses & legal tools, discovery & collaboration tools, policy & advocacy, and community building.  (

The Creative Commons organization is a global network of people working towards the vision of a shared culture. You can engage and become part of the Creative Commons community by joining their open Slack space - sign up details are shared on this CC blog post We're on Slack - Join Us. You can find out more about how Creative Commons is supporting the Open Education movement by reading this blog post: Education / OER 

So how do the CC licenses work? 

Becoming aware of the creative commons license categories is an important first step. 

  1. Begin by viewing this video - Creative Commons Licenses Explained
  2. Then review this infographic Free Photos for Bloggers for a summary of information about the use and application of CC licenses
  3. Finally take a look at this summary Creative Commons Licenses Explained as developed by eCampus Ontario (attribution information included below). Examine the differences in each of the licenses and how they could be applied to open educational resources (OER).

Answer the following quiz questions about the licenses:

How do you attribute the CC works of others?

Attribution information for CC licensed work follows a T-A-S-L format – Title, Author, Source, License.

Review the following Creative Commons Wiki: Best Practices for Attribution

TASK: Create a chart (with columns Title, Author, Source, License) to provide attribution information for ONE creative work from each of the suggested open, searchable repositories. 

  1. Use the Creative Commons Search (beta version) to find an image of your choosing. Then click on the image to view/access the attribution information. 

  2. Try using Flickr Creative Commons search for images with keywords or topics. Check the attribution license and key information recorded below the image. Try using this handy Flickr Attribution tool (created by Alan Levine @cogdog). It’s FREE and ready to use.

  3. Using one of the CC licensed music sites listed on the CC blog post Legal Music for Videos, select and list the attribution information for one track of music.

How do you create a CC license for your own work?

image with the letters CC 0 and C with a crossed out symbol across it. Image is a composite of 1000s of images in the background

You can create your own CC license for materials and works that you have created. This can be an image that you attach to your work OR as html code to be included on a website or blog. 

TASK: Using this link to the Creative Commons License Chooser, try creating a CC license for yourself. Save an image of the license using a screen-capture and save the html code in a word processing document. Embed the image into the same document and keep the image and code together for future use.


Everything you create is automatically bound by copyright. Everything created by others is also under copyright. In order to reuse, remix, and repurpose resources, you need to recognize, understand and abide by copyright laws for your geographic jurisdiction. 

Creative Commons allows creators and users of media and creative works to recognize these works with attribution and designate the permissions under which these works can be shared and remixed. Considering the licensing parameters is an essential element of all creative production both for web and physical objects. When you create something, consider attaching a CC license so others can easily recognize how you’ll share your work. When you use the works of others, apply the CC licenses as designated by the author. 

Day 5 Activity


Create a digital image of your choice – it could be a picture from your garden, pet, shoe, hand or any other item of your choice. Add a Creative Commons license to your creative work.

You can choose to share you work in the Day 5 discussion forum in the course shell, in a social media space (blog, tweet, Instagram, Flickr), with family, friends, and colleagues, or just save it for your own reflection.


Begin a collection of images and resources for a project you will be working on, with copyright considerations in mind. This could be a course you are teaching or a video you hope to produce.

  • Review the CC Licensing options. Make a decision about which image licensing category to explore in Flickr Creative Commons or one of the other image collection sites listed above. (You can also explore FREE images available on Pixabay or Unsplash - these sites do not require any attribution, but recognition of author’s work is a good practice.)

  • Search for and collect 8-10 images to curate, download, manipulate and/or create a 'derivative'. You can save downloaded images to an image collection folder for later use.

  • Save attribution information for each of the images being collected using a word processing document chart template (such as the one used earlier in this module). Include a smaller version of the image in one column of your chart so you’ve collected an accurate summary for your files.

Explore More

A Guide to Copyright, Government of Canada, Canadian Intellectual Property Office

Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines, University of Maryland, University College Library; Updated May 11, 2018.

Copyright, CC & Fair Use [video]

Resources relating to Copyright in Education


Government of Canada. A guide to copyright: Copyright defined. Accessed from

What is Protected?  (

Image and Document Credits (listed in order of appearance)

Copyright vs. Creative Commons by Bryan Mathers CC BY ND

Essential Knowledge about Copyright from the Creative Commons Certification Course – CC BY. Retrieved from

Creative Commons Licenses Explained.  eCampusOntario, CC BY using an Attribution 4.0 International License. Use of the Creative Commons license icons in this document is in accordance with Creative Commons policies.

"One year of Free Pictures" flickr photo by Carlos ZGZ shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license.


All content for Copyright and Creative Commons by Helen DeWaard is licensed with a CC BY 4.0 International license (unless otherwise indicated with citation and/or attribution).

Video Transcripts

“Copyright, CC & Fair Use”

Hello and welcome to this new five minute guide in which we look a copyright

Contrary to what many of us may think and the way many of our students may behave

You can’t just use anything you find on the Internet in any way you like

Take the example of online images

Although you may be able to use and freely share some images

Others are coyrighted and you need to get explicit permission from the creators

and in some cases pay something to use them

If you go ahead and use the copyright images without doing so

You’re technically infringing the law

And of course it’s not just images, this applies to all online media

documents and text, images and photos, music and videos

Copyright work often has a C and a circle symbol

or the words Copyright by to show that you can’t simply do what you like with it

This may sound scary and off-putting but there’s some good news for educators

Many works on the Internet have Creative Commons licenses

Creative Commons is a movement that enables creators to apply 

different kinds of licenses to their work allowing them to be distributed

or freely shared for non-commercial purposes

Adapted or remixed or used only in their original version

Most creators like to have their work attributed to them

So this usually a part of a Creative Commons license

Visit the Creative Commons website to explore the main types of

licenses currently in use and the logos used to identify each

You’ll find a link at the end of this video and in the notes below

if you’re watching this on YouTube

Imagine you’re looking for an image to use for the class

If you use Google Image Search you’ll find lots of images, obviously

Some of the clearly marked copyright, and some not so clearly marked

You mustn’t assume that just because an image isn’t clearly marked as copyright

that it isn’t

Google Advanced Image Search enables you to search for images that only

have Creative Commons licenses by selecting the usage rights you need

as one of your search parametres

There’s also a Creative Commons search engine where you can choose to search

not just for images, but also for other media

There’s another handy concept for educators called Fair Use or Fair Dealing

which allows you to use a small percentage of copyrighted

work without getting formal permission from the creator

Fair use is limited to a number of very specific uses

News reporting and commentary

Criticism and parody, research and, good news for educators, teaching

So let’s imagine you want to work on a chapter with your students

from a copyrighted book

If the chapter is a small percentage of the total book

Around five to ten percent is generally agreed to be the limit

then that’s fine, and you can even make multiple copies of this content for your students

So before you start photocopying everything in sight, beware

One of the limits to Fair Use is that the content can’t be used for commercial purposes

Now, if you teach in a private language school or a university where your students

are paying for classes

This, it could be argued, is for commercial use

Fair Use is a bit unclear on this point

and what about if you want to use a copyrighted image or video of the whole thing

well, obviously it’s impossible to use a small percentage of an image

especially if this image is going somewhere public for example on a class blog

In this case it’s simply best to use a Creative Commons image instead

making sure your respect the type of Creative Commons license applied to it

Knowing about copyright on the Internet and alternatives

such as Creative Commons licenses is a fundamental part

of being a digitally literate citizen who knows how to use the Internet responsibly and legally

In fact, the classroom is the perfect place to let students of all ages know about this

especially if they need to find images, music or video for class projects they’re working on

or other schoolwork

This is the moment to teach them about Creative Commons 

and help them to find and attribute appropriate images for their work

You too can model responsible behaviour by using Creative Commons images

yourself with the appropriate attribution

You can even create a class around Creative Commons and share videos with your students

There are some good examples and good starter videos

on the Creative Commons website

And you can be proud of the fact that you’re teaching your students

to be more responsible in the digital age

"Copyright Basics for Teachers"

The Internet has completely changed how we access and use information and resources

as teachers

You can access, at your fingertips, more helpful media to assist you in your teaching

in a single day, than teachers used to find in a lifetime

but which of these media can you legally use?

Many teachers are at one, or the other, of two sides of a spectrum

Take Jenny, she is a teacher who couldn’t care less about copyright

She copies workbooks, pirates music, burns DVDs and encourages

her students to use popular music in their media projects

because she believes that everything she does is okay

because she is a teacher

Joe on the other hand is a teacher who lives in constant fear of copyright

he’s afraid to use anything that he finds online

and warns his students to never use other people’s work

even when it would be educationally valuable to do so

by actually understanding the types of licenses available for creative works

teachers can find a nice balance between Jenny and Joe

that allows them to meaningfully use material in their classes

without legal or ethical violations

There are three basic types of licenses for creative works

One, copyright. Two, public domain, and 3. Creative Commons

First, let’s explore copyright licensing

As a teacher, you need to understand that just about everything

you find online is copyrighted

Copyright law in the U.S. applies to any creative work as soon as the work is created

Whether or not it is licenses through the U.S. copyright office, or even if

it has the copyright symbol on it

As soon as someone creates a new song, video, lesson plan, book, photograph,

presentation, or other resource, that creative work is automatically copyrighted

whether the creator wanted this or not

This means that you should generally assume that everything you find online 

or offline is copyrighted

Another thing you need to know

Copyright law protects the creator’s right to decide how their work will be copied,

shared, performed, and displayed

For example, showing a copyrighted movie at a park to hundreds of your bffs is breaking

copyright law, even if you are using a legal, original version of the movie

the problem is that you are displaying the movie in a way the creator did not approve

essentially, using your home video copy for a makeshift movie theatre 

Wait a second, Jenny might argue, aren’t I allowed to use copyrighted material

because I’m an educator?

Yes, but only under some restrictions

Fair Use is an exception to copyright law that allows for anyone to use

copyrighted materials without permission if they follow certain requirements

It is not a get out of jail free card for teachers

it does not mean that teachers can use whatever they want, however they want

Like all laws, Fair Use is not really black or white

and is mostly a judgement call

but generally, the following are the four factors that should be considered

together when deciding if you, or your students, can fairly use a 

copyrighted resource without permission

First, the purpose for how you will use it

A word that is often used is transformative

Is your use of the creative work transformative, in order words, different from how it was used before?

for example if you parody a song, you transform it

and that’s okay

If you write a book review or a commentary article, you can quote the book as part 

a critique. Education is considered a transformative use as well

Second, the nature of the Creative work

If it’s a creative work, it’s harder to argue fair use

factual information is designed to be cited, and reused to some degree

for example copying pages from an encyclopedia is different from copying

pages from Ender’s Game. 

Third, the amount of material that you use, in other words

if you are using a small movie clip to make a point in your presentation

you are probably fine

but if you upload a whole movie to YouTube, even if it’s for educational purposes

you’re breaking copyright law

Fourth, the impact on the market from your use of the material

This is perhaps the most important factor to consider

Would your use of the material, in the way you plan to use it, hurt the

creator’s ability to sell and market their work?

For example, if something is created specifically for students like a math workbook

then copying pages from that book might really hurt the market share

In fact, many teachers buy just one workbook with the intention of making copies

for all their students, and this is breaking copyright law

Luckily, not all resources online are copyrighted, some are in the public domain

This means copyright law doesn’t apply and you don’t need to worry

about meeting Fair Use restrictions

Jenny and Joe may be worried that public domain works will be too old to be useful

in their teaching, but this is often not true

Public domain includes lots of great creative works

such as the works of Shakespeare and Darwin and they are freely available to anyone

Websites like Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, and Librivox

are great examples of places you can go online to find thousands of 

public domain works that you can freely copy, edit, share, and frankly exploit

In addition to public domain and traditional copyright there is a third

license that is becoming popular

Imagine you create a great instructional video and put it online

Because you’re a teacher, you want your video to teach as many people as possible

So you want other people to use your video, even if they remix it into their own video

Copyright law doesn’t allow them to do that without contacting you first

Luckily, Creative Commons is available

Creative commons allows creators to choose how people use their materials

It makes sharing open educational resources much easier

Generally, Creative Commons works for instance can be used for anything

as long as you cite the author

Sometimes you may need to do other things as well

Like keep the work in its original form

Or agree to not use the work for commercial gain

Openly licenses educational resources, or OER, are becoming increasingly

prevalent on the web and can be found on a variety of sites

Even open textbooks, which are complete textbooks that can be used, copies, and shared

for free for many subject areas and grade levels

CK-12 and OpenStax are some great examples of open textbook providers

that have great content that you can use without seeking permission

as long as you’re willing to abide by the open licenses contained in the textbooks

As a teacher, you also create content every day in the form of

lesson plans, unit, and other educational resources

You too can share these copyrighted materials with the world just by releasing them under an

open license

Imagine a world where every teacher shared all of their lesson materials on the Internet

under an open license and this allowed anyone to use, adapt, and share them

Imagine a world where teachers didn’t have to worry about copyright

in creating their educational materials for their classes

and where textbooks were freely available to every student both for viewing

online and for printing off in book form

This future isn’t far-fetched, it’s happening now as more and more educators

develop a basic understanding of copyright and Creative Commons, and how they

can freely share their work with others

In such a world, Jenny can be free to legally use the resources that she finds online

and Joe can feel empowered to safely and ethically use materials created by others

with just a basic understanding of copyright and open licensing, you as a teacher

can feel empowered and safe in how you use copyrighted materials

and you can also set a good example for your students

in behaving in a legal and ethical manner

"A Shared Culture"

What does it mean to be human if we don’t have a shared culture?

And what does a shared culture mean if you can’t share it?

It’s only in the last hundred or 150 years or so that we’ve started

tightly restricting how that culture gets used

The Internet enabled an infrastructure where anybody could participate without 

asking permission

We have all these new technologies that allow people to express themselves

take control of their own creative impulses, but the law is gettin’ in the way

Creative Commons is designed to save the world from failed sharing

People who actually want to share stuff

who put it up on the web because they want to share it on certain terms

So we wanted to create a simple way for creators to say to the world

here’s the freedom, that I want to run with my creative work

here’s the things you’re allowed to do

Can I reproduce it? Can I copy it? Can I put it in my textbook

Can I use that photograph?

Can I make a new version of it?

Creative Commons gives tools to creators to make a choice about copyright

Creative Commons licenses can cover anything that copyright covers

Every license says you need to give me attribution

I created this, give me credit for the work I did

The basic choices are commercial use or not

Can you make derivative works, versions, adaptations, or not

and do you want me to have to share alike, so if I take your stuff do I 

have to offer it to the next person under the same terms

There’s no requirement for you to do anything with your work

other than what you want to do

You own the copyright to it, what we’ve done is given you the right

to exercise your copyright in more ways, more simply

The idea here is to enable the creative impulses that the technology

turns loose and get the law out of the way

The work of Creative Commons is really about laying the 

infrastructure groundwork for this new type of culture

a new kind of folk culture

somebody from Delhi, somebody from New York, somebody from Singapore

can feel comfortable using a photo that was created and given away by

someone in the United States, or in China, or wherever that the licenses

have been extend to with their identity being preserved

which means that people can actually create new kinds of things

come together and build things

mashups that people can do with people’s Flickr photos

and ccmixter has allowed artists to make music together

it’s really about creativity and connection

access and control, from amateurs, who simply for the love of what they’re doing

and they want to share it and they want other people to be able to make use of it

to commercial organizations

In the end, this will have a very successful place in the for-profit economy

Creative Commons is this bridge to the future, is you got to move away from thinking

about content to thinking about communities

communities that develop around the content and the sharing

that the licenses allow enable these communities to come together

A physical commons is like a part where anybody can enter equally

the commons with intellectual works is actually much freer

it really is going to be the pillar for communications between people

cultural exchange, a space for more speech, more free expression

and that’s the kind of commons we’re trying to create


"Wanna Work Together?"

When you share your creativity, you’re enabling people anywhere to use it

learn from it and be inspired by it

Take the teacher who shapes young minds with work and wisdom from

around the globe

and the artist who build beauty out of bits and pieces she finds online

and the writer, whose stories use ideas and images crafted by people

you’ve never even met

these people know that when you share your creative wealth

you can accomplish great things

They and millions of other people all around the planet are working

together to build a richer, better, more vibrant culture using Creative Commons 

To understand Creative Commons, you need to know a little bit about how copyright works

Did you know that when you create something, anything from a photograph to a song

to a drawing, to a film, to a story, you automatically own an all rights reserved copyright

to that creativity, it’s true!

Copyright protects your creativity against uses you don’t consent to

but sometimes full copyright is too restrictive

what about when you want all those millions and millions of people out there

to use your work without the hassle of coming to you for permission?

What if you want your work to be freely shared, reused, and built upon

by the rest of the world?

Luckily there’s an answer, Creative Commons

We provide free copyright licenses you can use to tell people exactly

which parts of your copyright you’re happy to give to the public

It’s easy, it only takes a minute, and it’s totally free

Just come to our website and answer a few quick questions 

like, will you allow commercial uses of your work?

and will you allow your work to be modified?

Based on your answers we’ll give you a license that clearly communicates 

what people can and can’t do with your creativity

you don’t give up your copyright, you refine it so it works better for you

Welcome to a new world where collaboration rules

It didn’t even exist just a few years ago

but now there are millions and millions of songs, pictures, videos, and written works

available to share, reuse, and remix, all for free

You wanna work together?

Join the Commons, Creative Commons


Last modified: Thursday, 7 June 2018, 3:32 AM