Awesome Free Ed Tech Resources eBook!

  • Nearly 200 Free Applications and hundreds of resources to help you get the most out of them!
  • Tools for interactive collaboration, gamification, OER, mobile learning, & so much more!
  • YOURS FREE just for signing up for blog posts!

Sign Up Now


Understanding Copyright, Fair Use, and Creative Commons, as they apply to Education

by Kelly Walsh on October 24, 2010


As we studied this topic in an online course I’m taking, I realized how little I understood it, and figured I wasn’t alone in that regard.

After studying this topic in the “Implementing Instructional Technology Innovations” course I am taking online at UW-Stout with instructor Ann Bell, I wanted to understand it even better, since I struggled with it in the fast paced course as we covered it. I have to imagine that I am not alone in my confusion over how I can or can’t use copyrighted materials, especially in education, where there are some special allowances.

I assume that when instructors want to know what they can or cannot do with copyrighted materials, they may often have a hard time figuring it out. I really wanted to understand the topic and provide resources to help others do the same. Similarly, understanding how to leverage Creative Commons licensing was also not terribly straightforward, and I wanted to understand that better too. So I started reading further and learning more.

Using Copyrighted Materials – “Fair Use”

To better understand the topic of Copyright and Fair Use, and the special provisions that have been made for educational uses, I combed through a lot of materials that our professor had provided. It was a bit too much to digest all of this content originally, in the rush of getting through the week’s assignments, but at the close of the week, the instructor fortuitously reminded me of one particularly excellent resource.

The resource that really helped to clarify is this excellent 2 page poster-format document explains Copyright Fair Use in education [Editor’s Note – I just learned that this link is no longer functional – I will try find this document again and provide an updated link – KW 4/24/11]. Thanks to Technology & Learning for this wonderful resource that summarizes what educators can do with different types of materials and stay within the guidelines of what is acceptable as “Fair Use” of copyrighted materials.

Readers, click here if you would like to
view a video blog entry for this article.

To learn more, you might also want to check out this “What is Fair Use?” article.

Creative Commons

Image from


Creative Commons is an extension of Copyright. Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights, allowing them to copy your work, make derivative works, distribute it, and so on. Creative Commons strikes me as a wonderful idea, really helping to expand on copyright and encourage others to use materials in ways the creators are comfortable with.

There are 6 different types of Creative Commons license types, and they each have their own special icons to indicate that they apply to a given work, but I rarely seem to see them displayed on works, even when they are clearly supposed to be Creative Commons licensed works (as in Flickr’s “Commons” section). To see the symbols associated with each licensing type, click through to this page that explains CC licensing types (following is my attempt at an even further condensed explanation of these):

  • Attribution: This is the least restrictive license. You can distribute, remix, change, and build upon the work, even commercially, as long as you credit the original creation.
  • Attribution Share Alike: You can change and build upon the work, even for commercial reasons, as long as you credit the creator and license your new creation under the identical terms.
  • Attribution No Derivatives: Allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the creator.
  • Attribution Non-Commercial:  Lets others remix, change, and build upon the work only non-commercially, and new works must acknowledge the original, but they don’t have to license those derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike:  Others can remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, as long as they credit the creator and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new work based will carry the same license (derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature).
  • Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives: The most restrictive license. Often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download works and share them with others as long as they mention the source and link back to it, but they can’t change the work in any way, or use them commercially.

Understanding these license variations can be a little tough, but I think the bigger challenge with Creative Commons is the lack of consistency with which this licensing is conveyed for works found online, and the slow adoption of this concept in general.

Before closing, I want to mention that one cool site I came across while learning about CC is the Creative Commons Mixter. where you can download, sample, and share music licensed under Creative Commons.

I hope this helps to summarize these licenses concepts, and provides a set of resources that can help you understand what you can and cannot do under these licensing guidelines.

Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Video blog entry “Copyright and Fair Use, as applied to Education & Teaching”
30 Posts About Free Education Technology Tools & Resources
5 Reasons Why Educators Need To Embrace Internet Technologies


Kelly Walsh is Chief Information Officer at The College of Westchester, in White Plains, NY, where he also teaches. In 2009, Walsh founded He frequently delivers presentations and training on a variety of related topics at schools and conferences across the U.S. His eBook, the Flipped Classroom Workshop-in-a-Book is available here. Walsh became the Community Administrator for the Flipped Learning Network in June of 2016. In his "spare time" he also writes, records, and performs original music ... stop by and have a listen!

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, or those of other writers, and not those of my employer. - K. Walsh]

Print This Post Print This Post

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie October 27, 2010 at 3:51 am

This is something that every student must know whenever they’re writing something just to avoid any problems about legality and whatnot.

Beverly Stout October 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

You might also want to look at . Intended for teaching to high school, I use it at community college. It explains clearly and provides a variety of student exercises.

michael leventhal October 25, 2010 at 10:52 am

great advice! thanks Kelly

Leave a Comment

{ 22 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: