Wade Shumaker and Bryan McGeary

NOTE: This page is meant to provide an overall description of licensing. For more precise, thorough information please visit the Penn State Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright.

Creative Commons Licensing

As soon as you write a poem, draw a picture or post to your blog, you own the copyright to those creations, and no one can legally use them without your permission or license. But what do you really know about legally licensing your work to someone? Luckily there is an easy way that is legally binding; it’s called Creative Commons (CC) licensing. When you publish your work with a CC license, you retain the copyright but allow others to use it by varying degrees of control if they give credit to you, the author; which means someone can use your work without having to contact you to negotiate a license.

The OER movement relies heavily on CC licensing which is what you will be using to create your textbook if you are adapting content from other published resources. Specifically you will be looking for resources that have CC BY or CC BY-NC licenses.

The following is remixed from the Creative Commons website:

Before Licensing

Before you apply a CC license or CC0 to your work, there are some important things to consider:

The licenses and CC0 cannot be revoked. This means once you apply a CC license to your material, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright, even if you later stop distributing it.

You must own or control copyright in the work. Only the copyright holder or someone with express permission from the copyright holder can apply a CC license or CC0 to a copyrighted work. If you created a work in the scope of your job, you may not be the holder of the copyright.

CC BY: This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
CC BY-NC (non-commercial): This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

These 2 licenses are the most open and accommodating of the full suite of CC licenses. The remaining CC licenses all require that you give credit to the author but vary on what else you can do:

  • CC BY-SA (share alike): derivative works must be shared with this same CC license
  • CC BY-ND (no derivatives): you cannot alter any of this content
  • CC BY-NC-SA (non-commercial, share alike): derivative works shared with same license and be non-commercial
  • CC BY-NC-ND (non-commercial, no derivatives): must be non-commercial and unchanged/unedited


Appendix C has links to all the individual CC licenses.

Public Domain

Determining whether or not something is in the public domain can be challenging because of changes made to copyright law over time. This guide covers the basics but not necessarily every potential scenario. Let’s start off with the easy part. As of 2020, copyright has expired for all works published before 1925. This means that if the work was published in the United States before January 1, 1925, you can use it freely in the United States without seeking permission. Copyright protection always expires at the end of the calendar year, so in 2021, works published before January 1, 1926 will enter the public domain, and so on. The copyright for works that were published after 1977 lasts for 70 years after the death of the author (if solely authored) or 70 years after the death of the last surviving author (if created by multiple authors). For works published prior to 1978, the copyright term lasts 95 years from the initial date of publication.

However, creators used to be required to file a renewal with the U.S. Copyright Office when the initial copyright term expired. The requirement for filing renewals ended in 1964, so determining the copyright status of works published between 1925 and 1964 is a bit trickier. Many works published before 1964 have fallen into the public domain because the copyright holder failed to file the copyright renewal on time. This means that in order to definitively determine the copyright status of works published from January 1, 1925 to December 31, 1963, you should check the records of the Copyright Office to see if a renewal was filed. If the renewal wasn’t filed, it’s in the public domain. If it was renewed, then the 95-year copyright term applies.

Requirements about publishing with an appropriate copyright notice and registering copyrights have changed over the years, and this can potentially add some more complications that we won’t delve into here. We recommend that you check with the Penn State Office of Scholarly Communications & Copyright if you have questions about the copyright status of a particular work.


All images that you use in your book must give credit to the owner in the caption, preferably in the TASL (pronounced “tassle”) format:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Source link
  • License link


Searching for OER Images

Major search engines (Bing, Yahoo, Google) have filters to search for openly licensed images. Let’s look at Google.

  • Search on Google
  • Click on Images
  • Click on Tools
  • Select Usage Rights
  • Select the “Creative Commons Licenses” option
screen grab of Google's Usage Rights options for image searches
Google’s Usage Rights search options

Tips and Tricks

One Stop Shopping

Penn State Library’s Media Commons has an excellent resource page of many different types of content:

  • Audio
  • Images
  • Video
  • VR/AR

The Creative Commons does as well.

Openly Licensed Images

The following sites have free imagery you can use without attribution, but they all state attribution is appreciated.

  1. Unsplash; Unsplash license
  2. Pexels; Pexels license
  3. Pixabay; Pixabay license
  4. Pxfuel
  5. rawpixel
  6. The Noun Project (Icon library: CC BY attribution required)

Appendix F: Open Libraries contains a larger list of OER licensed image repositories.


  1. Open Peeps
  2. Bio Icons
  3. Weather Icons
  4. Emojis
  5. Health Icons

Attribution Information

When you find an openly licensed image that you want to use, make sure to record the TASL information (title, author, source url, license). It is so much easier to capture this information when you first find the image as opposed to later when you are ready to publish and have to re-find the image to access the url.

Wikipedia, Wikimedia

The vast majority of images on Wikipedia and Wikimedia are CC images that you can use. There’s even TASL information that you can cut & paste into your book.


You can right click on an image and select “Search Google for image” and then use the above steps to find open source imagery.




Licensing Copyright © 2020 by Wade Shumaker and Bryan McGeary. All Rights Reserved.

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