Skip to Main Content

Open Access Educational Resources Guide

A guide to material that can be freely used in your teaching.

Which Creative Commons Licence Should I Choose?

The CC BY Licence

Many open education advocates prefer CC-BY licences because they offer the most flexible options for others to reuse OER work. The CC-BY Creative Commons licence is also known as the “CC Attribution licence”. Creative Commons explains the licence in the following way:
You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
  • The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the licence terms.

Under the following terms:

  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the licence permits.


  • You do not have to comply with the licence for elements of the material in the public domain or where your use is permitted by an applicable exception or limitation.
  • No warranties are given. The licence may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material.

What is the benefit of a CC-BY license?

CC-BY is the most open of the Creative Commons licenses, which means that society at large can build upon content licensed this way in the easiest, freest and most effective ways. Licensing this way builds on an open information ecosystem, where not only can any student get access to textbooks for free, but further, anyone — another professor, a university, an app maker, or an artist — can build new value, new content and new services on top of this base layer of “public good,” the Open Educational Resource. This is exciting!

Other Creative Commons licenses such as ND, NC or SA

Other Creative Commons licences (namely no-derivatives, non-commercial and share-alike) place limitations on how Open Textbooks and OER in education can be reused. In particular:

  • ND (No Derivatives): The ND licence does not allow for reuse, revision or remixing, three of the five Rs. From the perspective of most people in the OER community, an ND-licenced textbook is not an open textbook.
  • NC (Non-commercial): While the non-commercial (NC) licence is attractive to authors afraid others will profit from their hard work, it has been known to cause confusion that leads to less reuse, less adoption. Take this lawsuit, for instance, dealing with whether NC-licenced content can be printed by a commercial print shop for use in classrooms. In other examples, colleges have assumed that because they charge tuition, they can’t use NC-licenced OER. The NC licence also reduces remix options (see how CC-licenced content can be combined).
  • SA (Share Alike):  This attribute requires that any derivative works are distributed with the same licence as their predecessor. While in theory this is a great way to ensure the creation of more open content, it conflicts with other licence attributes, which limits the possibility of remixing and reusing content, and can discourage future creators from using your work.

What if I don't want commercial publishers to take my work and profit from it?

In theory, yes, anyone can do anything they want with CC-BY-licenced work as long as they provide attribution to its creators.

The attribution requirement is a deterrent for anyone looking to profit from your work, especially if you clearly set out how you expect to be attributed. If the attribution makes it clear to a potential buyer that they can find the content elsewhere for free, there is little interest for a commercial publisher to invest in creating a paid version.

Some authors use the NC licence attribute to stop their content from being used as a part of a paid service, or a service offered by a for-profit company, but it is not clear that this restricts all commercial uses of the material. More restrictive again is using a CC BY-NC-SA licence which means that the entity reusing the material must share the work under a similar licence which can further inhibit commercialization. 

Adapted from Rebus Community. Licensing. Licenced CC BY 4.0