Open Educational Resources (OER): Public Domain and Creative Commons

This Research Guide will assist faculty in learning about and searching for open educational resources (OER).

Public Domain and Creative Commons

Works in the Public Domain and Creative Commons Licenses

Copyright law protects authors, artists, and creators so that they can benefit from and protect the tangible works they create. Copyright holders have the exclusive right to copy and distribute their works, and to publicly perform and display their works, among other things. How can you use someone else's work without infringing on their copyrights?

Public Domain iconFirst, consider using works that are in the public domain, which are materials not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright. A work may have entered the public domain because the copyright expired, the copyright owner has dedicated the work to the public domain, or it may be a work published by the U.S. Federal Government. 

 

Although there are a number of other scenarios where a work might exist in the public domain, you can identify many public domain works because they are:

  • Works published in the U.S. before 1924
  • Works of the U.S. Federal Government produced by employees or officers acting in their official capacities
  • Laws, including statutes and case law
  • Facts and data (though the expression of facts/data may be copyright protected)
  • Works dedicated to the public domain by the copyright holder, often labeled with a "CC0" symbol or icon

 This is a simple overview of the public domain. Determining whether a work is in the public domain can be quite complicated. If you'd like to read more about copyright, fair use, and the public domain, Stanford University Libraries has an excellent guide.

 

Creative Commons iconNext, a growing body of copyright protected work is openly licensed. This means that a copyright holder has proactively agreed to allow users to do a variety of things with his or her work, which might include copying, redistributing, revising, and remixing that work without seeking permission first. One organization, Creative Commons, has developed licenses that copyright holders can attach to their works in the form of six different open licenses. Each license has slightly different requirements that users must follow.

Creative Commons License Types
Creative Commons License and Icon What the License Requires

Creative Commons Attribution License

 

Attribution or

CC-BY

This license allows users to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the copyright holder for the original creation. 

 

Attribution-ShareAlike or

CC-BY-SA

This license allows users to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the copyright holder and license their new creation under identical terms.

 

Attribution-NonCommercial or

CC-BY-NC

This license allows users to remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, and although the new work must acknowledge you and have a non-commercial, component in the license, the new work does not have to have the identical license.

 

Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike or

CC-BY-NC-SA

This license allows users to remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, as long as the new creation is licensed under identical terms.

Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs icon

 

Attribution NoDerivs or 

CC-BY-ND

This license allows users to reuse the work for any purpose, including commercially as long as they credit the copyright holder and do not share an adapted form of the work. 

 

Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs or

CC-BY-NC-ND

This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, only allowing users to download works and share them with others as long as the copyright holder is credited and the work is not changed in any way or used commercially.

"The Licenses" by Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0. The text and layout in the above table has been slightly changed from the original.

Attribution Required

If you use a Creative Commons licensed work, all six licenses require attribution.  A proper attribution requires:

  • The title of the work with a link back to the original source
  • The author or copyright holder of the work
  • The Creative Commons license under which the work is released with a link to the Creative Commons deed.

A useful online tool to help you create attributions is the Open Washington Attribution Builder.

For more information about the Creative Commons licenses, check out the organization's website

Video You Can Use

Searching for Video

The resources listed below contain video files  that you may use in your projects. Public domain video files may be used without restriction, though providing attribution is a courtesy and reflects good academic practice. Video with a Creative Commons license may be used according to the permissions that come with the license. 

 

  • Moving Image Archive
    • This digital archive contains copyright protected, Creative Commons, and public domain video. Be sure to check the usage restrictions for each file.
  • NASA
    • NASA content -- images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format -- generally are not copyrighted.
  • Pexels
    • Stock video with a license that allows commercial use and modifications. There are some limits to the license, found on their website.
  • Pixabay
    • Free images, vectors, illustrations, and videos are available on Pixabay which do not require attribution. The Pixabay license is not completely in the public domain, but users may alter the videos and even use them for commercial purposes.
  • The Public Domain Review
    • This is an online journal with collections of a variety of works in the public domain, including images, books, film, and audio.
  • Videvo
    • Free stock video footage and motion graphics for use in any project with no strings attached.
  • Vimeo
    • Many of the videos on Vimeo are released with a Creative Commons license.

Public Domain Tools

If you are not sure if a work is in the public domain, there are some very effective tools which may be of help.

Images You Can Use

Searching for Images

The resources listed below contain images that you may use in your projects. Public domain images may be used without restriction, though providing attribution is a courtesy and reflects good academic practice. Images with a Creative Commons license may be used according to the permissions that come with the license. 

 

  • Cleveland Museum of Art Open Access
    • More than 30,000 art images in the public domain or licensed Creative Commons Zero (CC0), meaning the work has been dedicated to the public domain.
  • Creative Commons Search
    • Search for Creative Commons licensed music, images, and media from several providers.
  • Flickr "The Commons"
    • These are images marked with a "No Known Copyright Restrictions" designation. When searching, make sure to use the search bar which indicates, "Search The Commons."
  • Library of Congress
    • LoC has assembled collections of public domain or copyright-cleared images from its vast digital image database.
  • The Met Open Access Artworks
    • "Enjoy more than 406,000 hi-res images of public domain works from the collection that can be downloaded, shared, and remixed without restriction."
  • NASA
    • NASA content -- images, audio, video, and computer files used in the rendition of 3-dimensional models, such as texture maps and polygon data in any format -- generally are not copyrighted.
  • National Gallery of Art Images
    • More than 51,000 open access digital images are available for free download and use. The art in the open access collection are presumed in the public domain.
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
    • Though the images here are in the public domain, NOAA does require photo credit.
  • New York Public Library Digital Collections
    • When you search for an image in the NYPL collection, filter your results by "Show Only Public Domain."
  • The Noun Project
    • This site contains over two million icons, all licensed CC-BY.
  • Picryl
    • "PICRYL is the largest source for public domain images, documents, music, and videos."
  • Pixabay
    • Free images, vectors, illustrations, and videos are available on Pixabay which do not require attribution. The Pixabay license is not completely in the public domain, but users may alter the images and even use them for commercial purposes.
  • Unsplash
    • The license on Unsplash images is similar to that of a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. Attribution is not required but appreciated.
  • Wikimedia Commons
    • "A collection of 52,611,560 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute." Check each image, audio file, or video file for its copyright status or Creative Commons License.

Audio You Can Use

Searching for Audio

The resources listed below contain audio files and music that you may use in your projects. Public domain audio files may be used without restriction, though providing attribution is a courtesy and reflects good academic practice. Audio with a Creative Commons license may be used according to the permissions that come with the license. 

  • Bensound
  • ccMixter
    • Music on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Permissions to use depend upon the type of CC license attached.
  • Creative Commons Search
    • Search for Creative Commons licensed music, images, and media from several providers.
  • Digital History: Historic Music
    • This is a collection of downloadable music from periods during American history.
  • Free Music Archive
    • "Every MP3 you discover on The Free Music Archive is pre-cleared for certain types of uses that would otherwise be prohibited by copyright laws that were not designed for the digital era." Music here is licensed with a variety of Creative Commons licenses.
  • Freesound
    • "Freesound is a collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds. Browse, download and share sounds."
  • Internet Archive
    • "Internet Archive is a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more."
  • Musopen
    • Musopen works to "increase access to music education by providing free music recordings, sheet music, apps, and educational materials."
  • Opsound
    • "Opsound is a gift economy in action, an experiment in applying the model of free software to music. Musicians and sound artists are invited to add their work to the Opsound pool using a copyleft license developed by Creative Commons. Listeners are invited to download, share, remix, and reimagine."
  • Public Domain Music
    • A collection of performances of public domain works. The music files themselves are copyright protected, though noncommercial uses are permitted
  • The Public Domain Review
    • This is an online journal with collections of a variety of works in the public domain, including images, books, film, and audio.
  • UCSB Cylinder Audio Archive
    • University of California at Santa Barbara has recorded and archived cylinder recordings made from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. The collection includes "popular songs, vaudeville acts, classica and operatic music, comedic monologues, ethnic and foreign recordings, speeches and readings."
  • YouTube: UnRoyalty.com
    • Royalty-free music for creators.
  • Zapsplat

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