An Overview of OER

4 Open Licenses

Open licenses make OER possible.[1] Open licenses enable creators to proactively communicate to the public about how copyrighted material can and cannot be used. Open licensing options fill the gap between “all rights reserved” copyright, which protects everything from storing copies of a work to modifying the work, and the public domain, in which there is no copyright protection. In this chapter, you will learn how popular open licensing mechanisms, such as Creative Commons (CC), enable creators, remixers, and content users to quickly and easily understand when we can legally use and adapt the work of others.

Copyright (all rights reserved) on left of spectrum requires permission from owner for reuse; Creative Commons (some rights reserved) in center permits reuse without permission under specifications shared in license; public domain (no rights reserved) on right may be used without permission.
The diagram “the spectrum of rights” from “Making Sense of the Spectrum of Rights” by Michelle Pacansky-Brock is licensed CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Creative Commons Licenses

There are six major CC licenses that all include different combinations of the four basic requirements described below.[2]

Creative Commons logo


You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work—and derivative works based upon it—but only if they give you credit the way you request. This element is a part of all six licenses.


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

  No Derivatives

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

  Share Alike

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

The six licenses and the Creative Commons Public Domain designation are shown below in order of the amount of freedom they provide for users. The spectrum includes two licenses that are not OER because they do not allow for revision and remix (i.e., CC BY-ND and CC BY-NC-ND).

Licenses listed from most freedom to least freedom. OER: Public domain, CC BY, CC BY SA, CC BY NC, CC BY NC SA; Not OER: CC BY ND, CC BY NC ND
The Creative Commons image from “Increasing College Affordability with Open Educational Resources” by Cable Green is licensed CC BY 4.0.

The CUNY OER representative at your campus can help you determine which open license will give you the type of ownership you want, while still allowing your work to be reused and remixed freely.

"" For information on how to select a license as part of the metadata for your book, see the chapter Book Info in the Pressbooks User Guide.

  1. This chapter is based on the chapter Open Licenses in A Guide to OER Creation with Mavs Open Press by Mavs Open Press, published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Revisions have been made in accord with the style, structure, and audience of this guide.
  2. The text describing CC license components originally appeared in “The Beauty of ‘Some Rights Reserved’” by Molly Kleinman, published in College & Research Libraries News in November 2008. This version is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

CUNY Pressbooks Guide Copyright © 2022 by Andrew McKinney; Rachael Nevins; and Elizabeth Arestyl is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.