Friday, March 25, 2016

Making Sense of Creative Commons Licenses

Interview with Jane Park

Last week I was fascinated to interview Jane Park, director of Platforms and Partnerships at Creative Commons. I always have to look up what the various licenses mean, so I was happy to have the opportunity to listed to Jane make sense of it for me! Following is a transcript of your interview. 

Tell us about you and your role.
I've been at Creative Commons (CC) for a number of years and currently I lead our platform initiatives. Which means working with OER platforms like Edmodo, Amazon, and Microsoft, as part of the U.S. Department of Education GoOpen initiative.

What is Creative Commons?
We're a nonprofit organization and we offer a suite of legal tools that make it easy for creators to share their creative work online. Prior to us, there were only two options if you wanted to share your work- all rights reserved copyright, where you had to ask for permission every time you used any part of someone's work, or in the public domain (you had no rights to that whatsoever). CC licenses are a set of copyright licenses that allow the creator to flexibly say, 'you can use my work and you have to give me credit,' and they allow the creator to manage those different permissions.

What does "open" mean in the context of OER?
The "Open" requires the 5 Rs. Retain (you can retain a copy- download/duplicate/store on your own computer), Reuse (use it in a class, in a study group, re-share it in a website or in a video), Revise (modify it, adapt it to your classroom, translate, and alter the content in other ways),Remix (combine the work with other works to create a collection or mashup), and Redistribute (share it on a website or video publicly).

On Edmodo Spotlight we have 3 choices: Attribution, Attribution Sharealike, and Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives. Can you tell us about what those three mean and why I would choose one over the other?

Attribution is the most liberal and accommodating of the licenses we offer. It essentially says hey, you have to give me credit for my work, but you can do whatever you want to do with it- you can remix it, adapt it, even use it for commercial purposes. We recommend this license as a default for OER.

The second option is Attribution Sharealike, which is basically the Attribution license with one extra condition attached. If you alter or modify the work in any way, you have to Sharealike your derivative work under the same license. You're still allowed to use it commercially. For example, if you take a song and sync it with a video, that video with the song you would have to Sharealike under the same Attribution Sharealike license.

The third license- Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives - is actually our most restrictive license. It signals to the user that you can redistribute my work verbatim, but if you make any modifications or changes, you cannot share it out. So it's saying "don't change my work but you can share it widely." 

What about paid resources?
If you're the owner, you can always sell it and/or add a Creative Commons license. If you're not the owner, you can use works under the first two licenses for commercial purposes, but not the third one, since it has a non commercial condition.

Do I need to worry about using someone else's work in my classroom? We teach our kids about fair use. How does that apply to this?

When you're using work in the classroom, it's more lenient than re-publishing in the open web, since the classroom is a closed setting. If the work is under a CC license, you're free to use it as long as you abide by the terms of the CC license. It applies in and out of the classroom. When it comes to using all rights reserved copyright works, you're free to use them both in and out of the classroom, the difference is the rules might be more liberal in the classroom, under fair use.

I'm not a fair use expert but there are 4 fair use factors that any court of law will judge fair use by. That is: the purpose and character of your use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion you use, and the effect of that use upon the potential market. But I would definitely read the wikipedia article on it, it will explain much better than I do.

What's the most common mistake teachers or students make when labeling using CC licenses?
If you are not the owner of the content, you should not be adding a CC license to that work. That's a common mistake, people put a CC license on works they don't own. A second one is adding a Noncommercial No Derivatives license, and say it's OER. As we discovered with the 5 Rs, if you can't remix it, then it's not OER. So if you want it to be OER, choose one of the licenses that allow derivative works or allows Remix.

What's the most important thing you want teachers to know?
There is a large world of OER out there. If you take 10 minutes to familiarize yourself with the CC licenses and how they work, you can tap that world of OER and clearly figure out what you can and cannot use and under what conditions. CC licenses really provide clarity, where there is often ambiguity, especially when it comes to fair use. That being said, we do encourage teachers to rely on fair use, exceptions and limitations to copyright, when using any educational resource.

Thank you Jane, for helping to make sense of this for us!


  1. Very useful information... It made a lot of sense to me... Thank you Jane, for helping me to make sense of this...

  2. This is the way to the school's resources. I think the biggest obstacle will be represented by the publishers ... but more and more teachers will learn to use their own or other people's resources to do teaching. The 5 Rs rule is really interesting, I will remember it...ok I will reuse it ;)