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Copyright and Open Licensing

This guide provides information and resources about copyright and open licensing, including Creative Commons open licenses and attribution.


In Canada, new original works are automatically protected by copyright as soon as they are in a fixed form (e.g. a Word document). And the copyright is generally held by the author of a work, at least initially, giving them the sole right to determine how and when their work is used. This means that unless an author explicitly grants permission, no one can copy or make changes to their work, except in accordance with user rights granted in the Copyright Act, such as fair dealing. Therefore, if you want to use a work in a way that doesn’t qualify as a user right, you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder and then ensure you use the material in accordance with the rights they grant. The granting of permission is often referred to as “licensing”. Some copyright holders restrict all rights to their work while others proactively license their work using standard terms that allow anyone to use their work as long as certain terms and conditions are complied with. Creative Commons licenses are a well known example of proactive licensing.

See the links below for information related to copyright and intellectual property

Creative Commons Open Licensing

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to make it easier for creators to share their work and/or build upon the works of others consistent with the rules of copyright. They have created standard, easy to use and understand copyright licenses that anybody can apply to their work to allow others to share, remix, or use the work without having to contact the copyright owner to ask for permission. There are several Creative Commons licenses, each with a different level of use restrictions.

Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative or exception to copyright, they are one way for copyright owners to distribute their work within the copyright framework.

For more information about Creative Commons:

Creators or copyright holders who wish to apply a Creative Commons license to their work can choose to allow their work to be copied and reused with any one or more restrictions, or certain combinations of restrictions. The four restrictions are:

CC-BY icon

You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, 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.

Non Commercial
You may not use the material for commercial purposes.


Share Alike
If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.


No Derivatives
If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.

Creative Commons offers six different licenses that allow copyright holders to apply different restrictions to how their work may be reused. When using a specific CC-licensed work, it is important to pay attention to the CC license and its restrictions. All Creative Commons licenses require attribution. The specific types of Creative Commons licenses are described on the Creative Commons website.

CC0: Users can fulfill the 5 R's of Open and are not required to provide attribution, but it is nice to have the information to the original creator.

CC-BY: Users can fulfill the 5 R’s of Open with the work as long as they provide attribution. 

CC BY Share-Alike: Users provide attribution AND licence their derivative work exactly the same way as the original.

CC BY Non-Commercial: Users provide attribution AND are not allowed to use the work for any commercial purpose. 

CC BY Non-Commercial ShareAlike: Users provide attribution, are not allowed to use the work for any commercial purpose, AND licence their derivative work exactly the same way as the original.

CC BY No Derivatives: The work can’t be changed, so users can’t do the 5 R’s. Doesn’t meet the definition of open educational resources! But are open access resources.

CC BY No Derivatives:This work cannot be used for any commercial purpose AND can’t be changed, so users can’t do the 5 R’s. Doesn’t meet the definition of open educational resources! But are open access resources.


Creative Commons also has a license chooser that walks you through the process of choosing a license based on various criteria.

The infographic and video below provide a helpful overview of the different licenses and their requirements:

infographic explaining the rights and limitations of various CC licenses

How To Attribute Creative Commons Photos by Foter


Creative Commons has created a CC License Compatibility Chart to assist in instances where creators are looking to bring multiple openly licensed content together into a new openly licensed work, such as open access material and open educational resources (OER).

To use the chart, find a license that applies to one of the works you are using in the left-hand column and the license that applies to the other work you would like to use in the top right row. If there is a check mark in the box where that row and column intersect, then the works under those two licenses can be remixed. If there is an “X” in the box, then the works may not be remixed unless an exception or limitation applies.

More information about the compatibility of Creative Commons open licenses can be found in the Creative Commons Wiki and on their website.

Open Licensing, Copyright, and Attribution

For open resources, the copyright holder has applied an additional licence, usually Creative Commons, that provides advanced permissions for how they would like their resource to be used.

Copyright + Open Licence = Open Resource

When you are using another creator's openly licensed resource it is important to credit that creator through an attribution statement. In scholarly practices, it is the common practice to cite the work of other creators within a work. Providing attribution is a similar practice, however as it is connected to copyright and legal practices it is especially important to include.

In many OER repositories you will find the Creative Commons or other open licence within the description information on the resource, but sometimes this information can be located within the copyright information, terms of use, licensing, or conditions. So it you may need to delve a little deeper to find information about the licensing applied to a resource, particularly on websites.

Copyright and Licensing Attribution Statement