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Open Educational Resources (OER)

Designed for educators at the University of Missouri, this guide covers ways to find and create Open Educational Resources (OER).

The Three Pillars of Open Educational Resources: Public Domain, Creative Commons, and Fair Use

Three legal provisions provide the basis for using materials in the creation of open educational resources:

  • The public domain: Works out of copyright and information not subject to copyright law
  • Creative Commons licensing: Provide broad use of copyrighted materials subject to certain conditions
  • Fair use and other limitations and exceptions to copyright: Legal rights to use copyrighted materials

Creative Commons

By definition, open educational resources--though they may be copyrighted--are made available under various open licenses that permit free reuse, revision, and customization by educators and students.

The most commonly-used open licensing scheme for these materials is one of the six Creative Commons licenses. Our librarians are happy to answer questions about these licenses.

More information about Creative Commons can be found on our Open Access guide.

Fair Use

Under U.S. law,

... the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.

The four determining factors for fair use outlined in 17 U.S. Code § 107, "Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use," are:

  • the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Fair Use: Two Core Questions

The authors of the 2021 report Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources encourage creators and educators to ask themselves two questions when considering the incorporation of copyrighted material into classes and open educational materials:

  1. Are you doing something new or different (something "transformative") with the material?
  2. Is the amount you are using--whether a part of the whole--appropriate?

They add: "If yes to both, it's unlikely that you'll be providing a "substitute" for the copyright work in its intended market--which is the only pocketbook issue relevant to fair use."

Copyright and Campus Support

For information on permissible uses of copyrighted materials not licensed under an open license (including materials available through the University Libraries), visit our Copyright guide. These pages may be particularly helpful:

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Jeannette Pierce