Adopting & Creating OER

8 The Purpose of Copyright

Open educational resources, like all intellectual property, are subject to copyright law. Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to a creator to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to grant the ability for others to do the same. For details about copyright law see Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “What Works Are Protected” by the U.S. Copyright Office. 

Many authors would rather share their work than reserve all of their rights. Creative Commons makes this wish possible. Authors attach a Creative Commons license to their work to grant the right to revise, remix, retain and distribute their work within the legal framework of traditional copyright laws. Currently, CC licenses are used on approximately 2.5 billion works across the internet.

Most OER are released under Creative Commons (CC) licenses. Creative Commons flips the traditional copyright model, in which all rights are reserved except those expressly granted. Instead, with a CC license all rights are granted except those expressly reserved.

CC-licensed materials are not in the public domain. The author retains legal ownership of their work. However, unlike traditionally copyrighted materials, all CC materials may legally be reused indefinitely.

The Copyright Act of 1790 was meant to provide an incentive to authors, artists, and scientists to create original works by providing creators with exclusive rights to their work. Copyright protects against theft, so creators profit and the public receives the benefit of the creative works.

There are two main reasons for copyright law:

Utilitarian: Utilitarianism is the dominant purpose of American copyright law. “According to utilitarian theory, copyright law provides the incentive of exclusive rights for a limited duration to authors to motivate them to create culturally valuable works” (Sterk, 1996). This allows authors to profit from their work.

Author’s rights: Also known as moral rights, this ensures attribution and that a creator gets credit for their work. “Moral rights protect the personal and reputational, rather than purely monetary, value of a work to its creator” (Rosenblatt, 1998).

Rosenblatt, Betsy. (1998). Moral Rights Basics.

Sterk, S. E. (1996). Rhetoric and Reality in Copyright LawMichigan Law Review94(5), 1197–1249.  


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Connecticut College Pressbooks Creator Guide by Ariela McCaffrey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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