Which License Should I Choose?

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Image courtesy of Elsie esq.

It is difficult to give an exact answer. In some cases of reuse you must abide by the terms of the license and redistribute the OER with the same license. In other cases, it is a matter of personal choice. As discussed in the Creative Commons section, some believe that in order for an OER to be truly free, it must contain a Noncommercial clause to prevent commercial entities from hoarding materials and blocking access to free versions. Others feel that because commercial activity is difficult to define, OER should be licensed without a Noncommercial clause, thus ensuring the widest possible use. The GFDL section of this handbook recommends use of that license if maintaining compatibility with Wikipedia is a primary concern.

When you are ready to license your OER, think of your audience.

  • Will they (the audience) want to use it for something that might be considered commercial activity?
  • Are you concerned about commercial entities using the OER?
  • Is it important that others who use your OER share derivatives in the same manner?
  • Would it bother me if people changed parts of my OER?

The answers to these questions will help you decide whether or not to use the Noncommercial, No Derivatives and Share Alike clauses, or if a license besides Creative Commons is appropriate. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are the copyright holder, you can separately grant a commercial license or entirely different license to someone, even if your work was initially licensed with the noncommercial condition. As you learn more about OER and the community you will have a better sense of how to license your future OER.

Free Cultural Works Definition

One way of classifying OER with respect to their licensing is in terms of the Free Cultural Works definition[1]. A Free Cultural Work is one that is licensed and created in a way that allows:

  1. The freedom to use and perform the work: the licensee must be allowed to make any use, private or public, of the work. For kinds of works where it is relevant, this freedom should include all derived uses ("related rights") such as performing or interpreting the work. There must be no exception regarding, for example, political or religious considerations.
  2. The freedom to study the work and apply the information: the licensee must be allowed to examine the work and to use the knowledge gained from the work in any way. The license may not, for example, restrict "reverse engineering".
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies: copies may be sold, swapped or given away for free, as part of a larger work, a collection, or independently. There must be no limit on the amount of information that can be copied. There must also not be any limit on who can copy the information or on where the information can be copied.
  4. The freedom to distribute derivative works: in order to give everyone the ability to improve upon a work, the license must not limit the freedom to distribute a modified version (or, for physical works, a work somehow derived from the original), regardless of the intent and purpose of such modifications. However, some restrictions may be applied to protect these essential freedoms or the attribution of authors (see below).

Permissible restrictions

Not all restrictions on the use or distribution of works impede essential freedoms. In particular, requirements for attribution, for symmetric collaboration (i.e. "copyleft"), and for the protection of essential freedom are considered permissible restrictions (Various, 2008).

Examples of licenses that follow the Free Cultural Works definition:

Although accepted by some, the Free Cultural Works definition has stirred some controversy, and is not the exclusive definition of freedom. Some disagree with the Free Cultural Works definition and have their own definitions. Whether you choose to follow the Free Cultural Works definition is a matter of personal choice.

Other Licenses

This handbook discusses the most popular sets of licenses for OER, Creative Commons and GFDL. There are several different "free" or "open" licenses available[4]. However, some of these licenses are outdated, not widely used beyond a single project, or meant specifically for software. The advantage of using a popular OER license, such as one of the Creative Commons licenses or GFDL, is that people are more familiar with these licenses, and are therefore more likely to reuse your material. Choosing a popular license also increases the chances of license compatibility with other OER. If you choose a lesser-known license, make sure you understand all the terms of the license before using it.


Add information about Free Art License 1.3. http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/


  1. http://freedomdefined.org/Definition
  2. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/
  3. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
  4. See for example the licenses listed by the Open Source Initiative (http://www.opensource.org/licenses/category) and the GNU Project (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/license-list.html)


Various. (Last Modified 2008 June 24). Definition of Free Cultural Works. Retrieved June 29, 2008, from http://freedomdefined.org/Definition