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Copyright and Fair Use: Open Access & Creative Commons licenses

A guide to copyright issues.

Why Open Access?

Open access initiatives support the right to share information, including academic and scholarly research, freely and for the benefit of the public, without concern for copyright restrictions or licensing fees. Instead of hiding information behind paywalls and requiring institutional access, open access publishers make information accessible to anyone. Specialized licenses, such as Creative Commons licenses, allow creators to retain some of their rights while still making their work available for widespread use.

How Can I Use Open-Access Materials?

Entire open-access textbooks can be downloaded, read, and kept without requiring payment or subscription. Open-access journal articles are accessible from any web connection, regardless of whether you have an institutional affiliation. Open-access or shareable images can be used on your website or on social media. Infographics can be shared and re-published.

Open Access Initiatives

Open Access Journals

Self-Archiving: When is it OK?

Consider this: you have a published article, and you have an account at an academic networking site such as ResearchGate or Academia.edu, or perhaps your institution has an institutional repository, and you would like to upload your work to make it available for a broad audience of people to read. However, the terms of your publication have granted the copyrights to the journal, or the publisher.


Green Open Access

Some journals support green open access efforts: this allows the journal or publisher to retain the copyright to the published work, but also allows the author some rights to share the work they produced.

See as an example, this statement from academic publisher Elsevier: What is green open access?

Green open access carries some restrictions: sharing may have to wait until a waiting period (called an embargo) has elapsed. There may be restrictions as to what version of the work can be shared. Also, there may be specific procedures for sharing the work (for example, the creator may be required to include a link to the journal in which the article appeared).


Does My Publisher Support Self-Archiving?

The policies page at the journal or publisher's website should detail whether self-archiving is allowed and what restrictions there are. Some other options are...

  • SHERPA/RoMEO - This site collects the self-archiving policies and procedures for thousands of journals.
  • SHERPA/JULIET - If your research was made possible by a scholarship, a grant, or some other type of funding, there may be restrictions on self-archiving. This site lists the self-archiving policies and procedures for corporate, government, or academic funding agencies.

 

Creative Commons

Full copyright operates on the principle of "All rights reserved." Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright, but rather a modification of copyright. These licenses allow a creator to reserve some of their rights as creator, while waiving other rights, such as the exclusive right to share their work, as they see fit.

There are six active Creative Commons licenses currently in practice.

This license reserves the fewest rights for the creator. Users and re-users may share, sell, and modify the original work; all that is required of them is that they credit the original creator by name. An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

This license allows for users and re-users to share, sell, and modify the original work, but requires that any derivative creations also be distributed under a CC BY-SA license. (So, you may not remix work done under a CC BY-SA license and then apply a more or less restrictive license to your remix.) An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

This license allows for users and re-users to share and sell the original work, but does not allow for any modifications. An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

This license allows for users and re-users to share and modify the original work, but does not allow for the original work or derivative works to be used for commercial purposes. An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

This license allows for users and re-users to share and modify the original work, but does not allow for the original work or derivative works to be used for commercial purposes. Further, any derivative creations must also be distributed under a CC BY-NC-SA license. (So, you may not remix work done under a CC BY-NC-SA license and then apply a more or less restrictive license to your remix.) An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

This license allows for users and re-users to share the original work, but does not allow modification of the work, or for the original work to be used for commercial purposes. CC BY-NC-ND is the most restricted of CC licenses. An appropriate credit to the original creator is a part of every CC license.

 

Finding Images

How Do I Use an Item Licensed Under Creative Commons?

The Creative Commons has published Best Practices for applying proper attribution to items used through a CC license.

In short, they recommend that a proper attribution identify four elements

  1. the title of the original work
  2. the creator of the original work (preferably linked to their profile or homepage)
  3. the source of the original work (preferably linked to its home location)
  4. the license applied by the creator (preferably linked to its CC license deed)

Here is an example of a Creative Commons image and its attribution:

Steel Town by Evan Leeson, used under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


If the item's license allows modification, and you have modified the item, it is recommended that your attribution include a brief description of your modification.

Steel Town by Evan Leeson, used under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Converted to greyscale