An overview of copyright as it pertains to instructors and students

What is a License?

A license is a legal agreement that allows a copyrighted work to be used by someone other than its creator. There are two basic categories of licenses:

  1. Exclusive licenses: If a person or company holds an exclusive license to a copyrighted work, they are the only one allowed to use it. If a creator gives or sells an exclusive license to someone else, the creator no longer owns the rights granted by the license and cannot give them to anyone else.
  2. Non-exclusive licenses: A person holding a non-exclusive license has permission to use a copyrighted work, but they are not necessarily the only one who has that permission. A creator can give out multiple non-exclusive licenses for the same rights and still own the rights themselves.

Note that the "bundle of rights" granted by copyright can be divvied up into licenses any way the creator chooses. If you have a license to use the print version of a book chapter in your class, for example, that doesn't necessarily mean the license also includes the right to post it on Blackboard. Always read licenses carefully.

Getting a License

There are two ways to get a license:

  1. Ask the copyright holder for permission to use the work (see the "Permissions" tab on the left); or
  2. Use a license already attached to a work. If the owner of a copyrighted work already knows what rights they are willing to grant, they may put a license on a work when it is published or posted. This license will specify who is allowed to use the work and for what purposes. If the existing license doesn't cover your use, you still need to ask for permissions.

Creative Commons Licensing

One of the most common types of existing license you may see on educational materials is called a Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licenses are a type of open license. Open licenses allow you to do some (but not necessarily all) of the Five R's of Openness for free and without requesting permissions:

  1. Retain: You can keep the work forever
  2. Reuse: You can use the work for your own purpose
  3. Revise: You can adapt, modify, or translate the work
  4. Remix: You can combine it with another resource to make a new work
  5. Redistribute: You can share the work with others

Creative Commons Licenses use a series of four symbols to tell you which of the 5 R's you can do: