Copyright and licensing your materials

Updated June 2013

When putting material online, it is a good idea to choose and make explicit an intellectual property licence. This makes clear whether reproduction and reuse are allowable. By declaring your intent at the outset, you can avoid having to deal with lots of permission requests from users.

The licensing decision has to be made by the intellectual property owner, which is not necessarily the author. It may be the author's employer or the body that paid for the content to be created.

Copyright: all rights reserved

This would mean that users cannot make further copies of your material without your permission. Full copyright applies by default as soon as you make an original work, but you can make your intention clear by adding an explicit statement.

Public Domain: no rights reserved

Out-of-copyright creative works, including the music of Mozart and Beethoven or the writings of Newton and Shakespeare, are in the public domain. It is not common for academics to release work to the public domain, but you have the option to do this by labelling your work as such.

Creative Commons: some rights reserved

This is a middle way that preserves some rights of the author, but guarantees some rights of the end user. There are various flavours of Creative Commons licence, which strike slightly different balances between the rights of creators and users.

One version that the Economics Network recommends for all submitted educational materials is Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

  • Attribution means that anyone making use of the content must credit the original source (just as if you use someone's work in your research you would have to credit them).
     
  • Share Alike means that anyone who uses your work can adapt it, but has to share that new version under the same terms as your original. This prevents someone taking your work, making a slight alteration and then claiming all rights to the new version.
     

To licence your work in this way, include the statement, "This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence" and make a link to http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ . There are badges and other forms of text you can paste into your document or web page to indicate the licence. If your Creative Commons work includes some elements which are not, such as trademarks or pictures borrowed from a copyrighted site, then make that clear.

ShareAlike just applies to the specific piece of content that is licensed. So if you use a ShareAlike-licensed image in an paper, you are not required to give the whole paper the same licence.

There are non-commercial versions of CC licences. For example, MIT OpenCourseWare uses a non-commercial licence. However appealing this restriction may initially be to educators, "non-commercial" is problematic to define. With fee-paying students, UK universities might be argued to be commercial enterprises, which would bar them from using non-commercial materials without permission. Either way, non-commercial clauses prevent at least some legitimate educational uses

Text, images or other media with a CC By-SA licence can count as cultural works that are free in the same sense that "free software" is free.

A great deal of text, music, images and other content is available online under Creative Commons licenses.

  • The Google search engine has an option under Advanced Search to search resources with specific usage rights.
  • The photo sharing site Flickr makes it easy to find Creative Commons images, and add a CC licence to your own photos.