Brave New (Open) World: Licensing of Open Educational Resources

This is the third and last post on Open Educational Resources. On the first and second the focus was, respectively, context and sustainability, and this one will be dedicated to licensing. Licensing is a cornerstone of OER and a deep knowledge of its mechanisms is essential for the success of any OER project.


Open Educational Resources, as noted in previous articles of this series, are difficult to define in just one sentence, since the concept is very general, with a lot of different sub-concepts and practices being part of it, thus generating still a lot of debate on how to properly define it. Hoyle’s (2009) characterization of “big OERs” and “little OERs” shows us how difficult it is to agree upon a common definition of the concept.

Notwithstanding that fact, what is certainly agreed upon is the “open” character of  OER, and that in practice translates in two main aspects: the accessibility of the shared resources and its level of openness.

By accessibility we mean the use of open or de facto standards on the files we share, so that the users of the shared resources can use them on open-source (preferably) or widely used applications, and when feasible, if sharing non-editable files, sharing its editable precursor or source files as well.

The level of openness brings up the question of what are the terms by which we want to share our own resource. Although it may seem pretty straightforward to license everything under an open license such as Creative Commons, some thought must be put on the process. What level of freedom should the consumer of the OER be given? Freedom to use is granted, but should he/she be able to modify it? To adapt it to his/her needs? To mix it withother OERs? And if so, should he/she be able to distribute it in a new format or repackage it? Is there a need for attibution? If so, should the original OER be repackaged, does it maintain attribution need? If distributed in a specific format that is not open (such as a non-editable pdf, should the consumer ber allowed to, by any means, alter it? Some of those questions are addressed on Creative Commons (2006), which is widely thought of as very adequate for licensing content.

However, the resources that are part of the OER concept are not only learning contents, but also tools and implementation (OECD, 2007). Software can fall under the first two categories, since it can be the content to be shared and the tools needed to interact with the content. Creative Commons doesn’t provide a good solution to the open licensing of software due to its unique characteristics, and therefore another license should be applied. According to the Open Source Initiative (2013), the licenses that completely adhere to the concept of open source software are:

Licensing must be a major concern of both the deliverers and the consumers of OER, because it protects intellectual property, for one hand, and legitimizes their use, for the other, preventing their abusive use for other reasons such as profit.


Creative Commons. (2006). Choosing a license.

Downes, S. (2007). Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects3, 29-44. Retrieved from

Hoyle, M (2009). OER And A Pedagogy Of Abundance

OECD (2007), Giving Knowledge for Free: the Emergence of Open Educational


Open Source Initiative (2013) Open Source Licenses.


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