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Module 2: Copyright & License

Before we start talking about Open Educational Resources (OER), let’s briefly discuss the concepts that provide a foundational context to understanding OER, Copyright & License.

What is copyright?

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship.

When is my work protected?

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

This means that the work must exist in some physical form for at least some period of time, no matter how brief. Virtually any form of expression will qualify as a tangible medium, including the scribbled notes on the back of an envelope that contain the basis for an impromptu speech.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture.

Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.
Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.

Do I have to register with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. However, you will have to register if you wish to file a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work.

Although unnecessary, many still choose to register their works because they wish to have their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration.

So, if you created your original work in a tangible form, you are now a copyright owner. This connects us to another critical concept, license.

What is a license?

Let’s say you created a fabulous intellectual property (e.g., book, poem, song, drawing, etc.). As a copyright owner, if you wish, you can give permission to someone to use your work. This permission from the copyright owner is often called a license.

People who want to use your copyrighted work will have to obtain your permission (or get your consent) to use it. Obtaining permission is called licensing.

A license basically grants permissions, but sometimes it states restrictions as well. It specifies what can and cannot be done with a work.

In short,

Copyright = (a form of) intellectual ownership

License = permission or consent from the copyright owner to use the copyrighted work

Licensing = obtaining permission or consent from the copyright owner to use the copyrighted work

Think of it this way: in order to allow others to use your stuff, you need to own the stuff (if it’s not your car, you can’t – or shouldn’t- allow someone else to drive it). You need to be a copyright owner to give permission to someone. Therefore, behind all licensed works, there are copyright owners who’ve granted permission.

These concepts will help us better understand what comes in the next modules.

This content is drawn from:

Check Your Knowledge [quiz]


Next | Module 3: Understanding OER