Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

With the rise of networked communication, many authors and creators have sought to clarify which uses of their intellectual property they are happy to allow without being asked for permission. Creative Commons licenses allow them to specify which uses they permit and under what conditions. Additionally, these licenses are machine-readable, which means aggregation sites (like Google and others) can sort content by license type, which makes it much easier to find content that may be used for free.

Creative Commons does not replace or annul copyright. CC-licensed content still belongs to its creator, but specific uses are permitted to the public under each CC license type. Some are very permissive and some are more restrictive.

All CC licenses are “within the boundaries of copyright law.” The least restrictive license (CC-BY) only requires attribution to the content-creator (referred to as licensor), whereas other combinations address derivative, noncommercial, and share alike (requires derivatives to have the same license as the original) provisions, in addition to attribution. Based on your responses, the CC website will suggest license types and, if needed, provide HTML code that can be added to a webpage.

Benefits of using Creative Commons content in instruction

You can also use CC-licensed content for instructional purposes, such as inclusion in course packs or course management software, like BlackBoard. When you use CC content, time spent searching for a copyright owner to ask permission to reuse, remix, or share “All Rights Reserved” content is channeled to research, create new works, or teaching.

Here’s an infographic to help explain what is permitted and required by each license (in context with public domain and standard “all rights reserved”). Licenses are organized top to bottom from most open to least.

Chart of Public Domain, Creative Commons, and Rights Reserved usage terms
CC BY Aaron McCollough (adapted from a table by Anita Walz)

A complete list of CC-license types and conditions can be reviewed at the Creative Commons organization website.

You can create a CC-license for your own original content as the Creative Commons organization website, too.

You can determine which CC licenses are compatible with each other with the web2rights Creative Commons License Compatibility Wizard.

For help creating well-formed Attribution Statements, consult the Open Attribution Builder tool.

Fair Use

What is Fair Use? | Fair Use Evaluator Tool | Best Practice Guides to Fair Use

What is Fair Use?

The copyright statute (17 U.S.C.) provides a number of limitations on the exclusive rights granted a copyright holder. The “Fair Use doctrine” is a relatively brief but extremely important limitation that empowers users to copy a portion or, in some cases, all of a work without asking for permission from the content owner. The decision-making process involves your objective consideration of each of the four factors stipulated in § 107 to assess the impact of your use on the rights of the copyright holder. To that end, forms and tools included on this website will assist you in weighing these factors and making a decision about whether your use is a fair use. A definition of “fair use”, as defined in the statute, is a good starting point.

§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

“Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, 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. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include —

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.”

Fair Use Evaluator

To help you assess whether your proposed use of copyrighted material is a fair use, complete the online form provided by the Fair Use Evaluator tool. Print out and keep a copy of this time-stamped record, in the event you are asked by a copyright owner or a court of law how you arrived at your decision. Conducting this evaluation after you’ve used the content is not recommended.

Fair Use Evaluator

Fair Use Exceptions for Instructors (for performance and display of copyrighted material in traditional, distance, or blended educational models)

Best Practice Guides to Fair Use

Many organizations have written guidelines or best practices to help define fair use for specific audiences or types of content. These best practices provide an important framework for educators, in particular, in the event your decision supporting fair use is questioned by a court of law. American University’s Center for Media & Social Impact has compiled these documents (see CMSI’s Best Practices), or you may link to the document in the list below that is most applicable to your current needs). Topics are bolded for easier identification.

Copyright Basics

Familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of copyright, such as what makes a work copyrightable, the elements of copyright ownership, and the duration of copyright for an item. If you are interested in conducting copyright research or how to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office, take a look at the resources on the Registration & Research section below. Find out about using a Creative Commons license as an intermediate copyright option between “All Rights Reserved” and public domain works.

Copyright Basics | Registration & Research | Policies & Laws | Copyright Resources & Tools

Copyright Basics

A copyrighted work is defined as an expression of creativity that shows originality, although it doesn’t have to be unique, and is fixed in some medium so others may experience it. That is, if one can listen to, watch or read it, then the work meets the fixation element. Consult the Copyright Genie to determine if a work you are questioning is copyrightable.

What works are copyrightable? Just about everything.

  • Literary works
  • Musical scores & accompanying lyrics
  • Plays & accompanying music
  • Pantomimes & choreography
  • Pictorial, graphic & sculptural works
  • Motion pictures & other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works

What isn’t protected by copyright?

  • Ideas, principles, or methods of operation
  • Basic facts
  • Titles, names, short phrases, or slogans (although the latter may be registered as a trademark)
  • Works that are in the public domain

Copyright protection starts the moment a work is fixed, but how long does it last?

Copyright duration can be quite complex and depends on when a work was created and the country in which it was registered. For a graphic overview of term limits for works registered in the United States, see Peter Suber’s excellent Copyright Term and the Public Domain table. The Public Domain Slider will also give you an idea as to whether a work you want to use may be in the public domain.

Here are a few choice online resources describing copyright basics:

Copyright and Libraries

Use the Section 108 Spinner for initial guidance regarding reproductions made by libraries and archives for their users, as replacement or preservation copies. Section 108 continues to be a hotly contested part of Copyright Law between producers and consumers of copyrighted material because educational use could not be agreed upon in the areas of distance learning, interlibrary loan, and electronic reserves. See US Copyright Office Circular 21 Reproduction of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) provides information on several copyright and intellectual property issues and cases as they pertain to academic libraries, as well as additional resources. ARL also maintains Know Your Copy Rights, a site dedicated to using copyrighted works in academic settings.

The Library Copyright Alliance (LCA) includes representatives from the American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries. Content specifically addresses those groups’ needs and interests.

Registration & Research

Copyright protection is often misunderstood. A creator does not need to file or register his/her work with the US Copyright Office in order to secure rights for that work. A work is copyrighted automatically when it is “fixed” for the first time by the creator. (Remember, copyright protection can only be granted to works that have been fixed in some medium.) The duration of that protection for all works created on or after January 1, 1978, is the life of the author plus 70 years. For works with multiple authors, the term is 70 years after the death of the last surviving author.

Although registration is not a condition of copyright protection, there are several benefits; it is a legal formality that produces a public record of the copyright claim. Additionally, registration is required to seek statutory damages in a copyright infringement lawsuit that is filed in court for works originating in the United States. Registration may be made at any time within the original term of the copyright (the life of the author plus 70 years.)

To register a copyright, a creator must file a claim with the US Copyright Office. The application consists of three parts: a completed application form, a filing fee, and a nonreturnable “deposit.” The deposit is a copy of the work submitted to the Copyright Office.

US Copyright Office Circular 1: Copyright Basics (PDF)
US Copyright Office: Registering a Work
University Policy 4002: Copyright In University Works

Copyright Research

For specific information about the copyright status of an older work, there are currently two online databases available, as well as the Copyright Card Catalog in the Library of Congress, in which research may be necessary. Where you begin your research depends on the date of your item. See U.S. Copyright Office Circular 22 How To Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work for copyright research guidance.

Briefly, the card catalog contains copyright records spanning registration of works dating from 1790 through 1977. The online catalog is available for works registered or renewed from January 1, 1978, to present. See U.S. Copyright Office Circular 23 The Copyright Card Catalog and the Online Files of the Copyright Office for specific information regarding content in each. Copyright renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for Class A books published in the US between 1923 and 1963 may be accessed using Stanford University’s Copyright Renewal Database.

The U.S. Copyright Office has begun scanning pre-1978 registration records to make them electronically accessible to researchers. The Office has proposed to create a virtual card catalog that would serve as an interim step to the long-term effort of capturing index terms from the scanned card images using OCR and keyboarding, with the ultimate goal of  building indexes for online searching. The Copyright Matters blog provides weekly updates about this enormous project.

Policies & Laws

Mason’s copyright policies address ownership of content created by faculty, staff, and students affiliated with the University. These policies provide basic guidance to the University community about use of third party content in materials created for instruction, directed works and student assignments, as well as materials provided via library services (e.g., ILL and e-reserves).

Although plagiarism is not a copyright issue, per se, academic integrity is an integral part of copyright. For this reason, the University’s statement on academic integrity is included here, as is the Student Honor Code. Ethics in work practice, instructional assignments, and use of state-owned (i.e., Mason) equipment are fundamental to the policies and laws associated with copyright.

Links to applicable federal and Virginia state copyright laws are provided as well, for your perusal.

University Policies | Academic Integrity | U.S. Copyright Act | Virginia State Law

University Policies

University Policy Number 1104 — Use and Reproduction of Copyrighted Materials
This policy provides guidelines and procedures for the use and reproduction by university employees and students of copyrighted works in electronic courseware, websites, print coursepacks, and electronic, print, and media reserves. That is, materials in which the university does not hold copyright

University Policy Number 1301 — Responsible Use of Computing
This policy explicitly stipulates acceptable and forbidden use of the George Mason University network and computer hardware. The DMCA infringement notification (aka Stop It) process is described in detail, as well.

University Policy Number 4002 — Copyright in University Works
This policy details the ownership of copyright in works created by George Mason University faculty, staff, and students.

University Policy Number 4003 — Patenting University Inventions
This policy addresses the ownership of, benefit from, and other matters relating to inventions made at the university.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is at the core of George Mason University culture. As members of the Mason community, students, faculty, and staff pledge not to “cheat, steal, plagiarize, or lie in matters related to . . . academic work.” We should be and are held to a high standard of honesty and accountability in our research, assignments, and publications.

The fundamental principle of integrity resonates throughout all aspects of university life. Because the university functions as our Internet Service Provider (ISP), we are bound to comply with state and federal laws governing this resource, as well as with the rules defined in the student Honor Code, Responsible Use of Computing, and other policies. Plagiarism is a serious Honor Code offense, and individuals who engage in this behavior may be subject to investigation and review by the university’s Honor Committee. On the other hand, copyright violations, such as unauthorized sharing of music and other proprietary material, that stem from improper use of the Mason network and equipment flout state and federal laws governing the use, replication, and distribution of copyrighted content.

U.S. Copyright Act

Content owners and consumers benefit from a balance in copyright law (Title 17 U.S. Code). From an owner’s perspective, the law theoretically protects the rights of an individual who has spent time and, possibly, money creating a work. That is, the creator has a right to receive compensation and attribution for that work, as well as a level of control over its use. From a consumer’s perspective, the law may permit a work to be copied and enjoyed or expanded on, without the permission of the content, or copyright, owner. The decision to use a work without asking for permission is based on a subjective interpretation of the four factors comprising “fair use”, the doctrine on which users may rely as a defense against a content owner’s claim of copyright infringement.

As U.S. copyright law has evolved, several trends have emerged. In short, copyright duration for works owned by individuals has extended from 14 years, back in 1909, to the current time frame of the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. This extension has inhibited the rollover of works into the public domain. Disagreements over the legal status of “orphan” or unclaimed works also precludes free use of these works by the public.  Easier access to and distribution of content via the Internet has revolutionized learning, teaching, buying, and selling. Consequently, commodification of information made available electronically has resulted in greater pressure by copyright owners to control and be compensated for their content. These broad and dynamic changes undoubtedly affect how the law is interpreted by both the public and the courts. Without the balance offered by the fair use doctrine, the financial and logistical impact of copyright on society would be overwhelmingly burdensome.

The Teach Act

The TEACH Act expands the scope of educators’ rights to perform and display works and to make the copies integral to such performances and displays for digital distance education, making the rights closer to those we have in face-to-face teaching. But there is still a considerable gap between what the statute authorizes for face-to-face teaching and for distance education.

Ready to use the TEACH Act? Use this handy checklist to see

__ My institution is a nonprofit accredited educational institution or a government agency

__ It has a policy on the use of copyrighted materials

__ It provides accurate information to faculty, students and staff about copyright

__ Its systems will not interfere with technological controls within the materials I want to use

__ The materials I want to use are specifically for students in my class

__ Only those students will have access to the materials

__ The materials will be provided at my direction during the relevant lesson

__ The materials are directly related and of material assistance to my teaching content

__ My class is part of the regular offerings of my institution

__ I will include a notice that the materials are protected by copyright

__ I will use technology that reasonably limits the students’ ability to retain or further distribute the materials

__ I will make the materials available to the students only for a period of time that is relevant to the context of the class session

__ I will store the materials on a secure server and transmit them only as permitted by this law

__ I will not make copies other than the one I need to make the transmission

__ The materials are of the proper type and amount the law authorizes

  • Entire performances of nondramatic literary and musical works
  • Reasonable and limited parts of a dramatic literary, musical, or audiovisual work
  • Displays of other works, such as images, in amounts similar to typical displays in face-to-face teaching

__ The materials are not among those the law specifically excludes from its coverage:

  • Materials specifically marketed for classroom use for digital distance education
  • Copies I know or should know are illegal
  • Textbooks, coursepacks, electronic reserves and similar materials typically purchased individually by the students for independent review outside the classroom or class session

__ If I am using an analog original, I checked before digitizing it to be sure:

  • I copied only the amount that I am authorized to transmit
  • There is no digital copy of the work available except with technological protections that prevent my using it for the class in the way the statute authorizes

Read the entire law here Title 17 or read specific sections of the law, as denoted by the file tabs “Fair Use”, “TEACH Act”. “Digital Millenium Copyright Act”, etc.

Virginia State Law

Chapter 28 of Title 2.2, section 2822.  Ownership and use of patents and copyrights developed by certain public employees; Creative Commons copyrights.

Sub-section D states “this section shall not apply to employees of public institutions of higher education who shall be subject to the patent and copyright policies of the institution employing them.”

Chapter 38 of Title 59.1.   Virginia Music Licensing Fees Act

The Commonwealth law governing royalty contracts between a proprietor and a performing rights society, on behalf of a copyright owner, licensing public performance of nondramatic musical or other similar works.

Chapter 763 of Title 59.1 An Act to amend and reenact §§ 59.1-501.2 through 59.1-501.5, 59.1-501.9, 59.1-501.10, 59.1-501.12, 59.1-502.9, 59.1-502.12, 59.1-505.3, 59.1-506.5, and 59.1-508.16 of the Code of Virginia and to amend the Code of Virginia by adding a section numbered 59.1-503.10, relating to the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. [H 2412] Approved March 26, 2001

Copyright Resources & Tools

Public Domain

Public Domain Slider – This tool can assist you with in determining whether a work you want to use may be in the public domain.

Copyright Research

Card Catalog – This brochure (PDF) details how you can search copyright records at the Library of Congress. These records cover registration of works from 1790 through 1977.

Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders (WATCH) – A database resource principally for copyright questions about literary manuscripts held in the U.S. and the U.K., maintained jointly by the University of Texas and the University of Reading

US Copyright Office Online Catalog – This online catalog allows you to search registered (or renewed) works from January 1, 1978 to the present.

Copyright Renewal Database – This database from Stanford University allows you to search copyright renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for Class A books published in the US between 1923 and 1963.

Copyright and Libraries

Section 108 Spinner – Use this tool to evaluate the need for reproductions made by libraries and archives for their users, for replacement or for preservation.

Open Educational Resources Workshop—October 18, 2017

Workshop on Open Educational Materials, October 18, 2017
Discovering and Developing Open Educational Resources for Your Courses

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Fenwick Library, Room 1009.

Open Educational Resources (OERs) include materials for teaching, learning, and research that may be freely used and repurposed by others, because they reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license (such as Creative Commons) that permits their use and reuse. The high costs of textbooks have led universities including Mason to advance OER adoption to reduce the cost of instruction for students, improve teaching and learning outcomes, and enable better opportunities for students through open access to quality educational resources.

Mason 4-VA, in collaboration with Mason Publishing in the University Libraries and the Office of Digital Learning in the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning, has announced a call for proposals to encourage the use of OERs in innovative course redesign.

Competitive grants will be awarded ranging from $1000-$5000, depending on the nature of the work and the level of team collaboration. Larger amounts will be considered for projects that develop original materials. Courses targeted for the pilot include those with high enrollment numbers, are required courses for majors, count in the Mason Core, or carry high textbook costs. As part of this pilot project, Mason Publishing is assisting instructors in developing open textbooks and other open access materials.

RFP Open Educational Resources 2017

Attendees will learn from teams who have successfully incorporated OERs in online and face-to-face classrooms. Participants will also learn about opportunities to develop textbooks and other materials with Mason Publishing, and how to identify and quality open textbooks as a replacement to higher cost textbooks.

Open and Affordable Educational Resources (OER)

At Mason, we want to make your courses accessible to all students.  One way to do that is to reduce the costs of the textbooks and other educational materials you use—and University Libraries can help. We offer support for reducing the cost of textbooks  and for making library-licensed e-content available to your students.  We’re also ready to help you discover, use or even develop and publish your own open educational resources.

So there are several ways to make educational resources affordable for your students:

  • Choose a standard textbook, put a physical copy on reserve, then let your students know how to access it.
  • Choose a textbook or articles where the library already offers free digital access.  Place the item on ‘e-reserve‘ and then link to the item on your Blackboard site or include a link in your syllabus.
  • Choose an existing Open Educational Resource (see Finding OERs below).
  • Work with us to develop and publish an OER for your course(s). Contact Aaron McCollough at amccollo at to get started.

What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Educational Resources (OERs) are freely-accessible teaching, educational, and research materials that either exist in the public domain or are available to users via an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing. These resources include complete online courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, assessment tools, and software. They provide people worldwide with access to quality education and the opportunity to share, use, and reuse knowledge.

Finding OERs

Mason’s Open Educational Resource Metafinder

In conjunction with Deep Web Technologies, University Libraries has developed a search engine that simultaneously queries a number of open educational resource sites.   In addition to well-known OER repositories like OpenStax or Merlot II, our Metafinder also searches HathiTrust, DPLA, Internet Archive and other sites where valuable open educational materials may be found.

We’re still adding search targets but today our OER Metafinder searches sixteen sites in real time, returning the top 250 or so hits from each site–in seconds!  Additional matches continue to trickle in as you begin examining your results.

Search: Mason OER Metafinder (MOM)

Advanced Search

RFP for Open Educational Resources at Mason

The high costs of textbooks have led universities including Mason to advance OER adoption to reduce the cost of instruction for students, improve teaching and learning outcomes, and enable better opportunities for students through open access to quality educational resources.

Mason 4-VA, in collaboration with Mason Publishing in the University Libraries and the Office of Digital Learning in the Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning, has announced a call for proposals to encourage the use of OERs in innovative course redesign.

Competitive grants will be awarded ranging from $1000-$5000, depending on the nature of the work and the level of team collaboration. Larger amounts will be considered for projects that develop original materials. Courses targeted for the pilot include those with high enrollment numbers, are required courses for majors, count in the Mason Core, or carry high textbook costs. As part of this pilot project, Mason Publishing is assisting instructors in developing open textbooks and other open access materials.

RFP Open Educational Resources 2017-18

Additional Resources

Explore the links below for additional information  on this OERs:

Course Content and Textbooks

Open Courses and MOOCs

Grants and Advocacy

K-12 Resources

Articles and Research on OERs

web2rights Creative Commons License Compatibility Wizard.

OER Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collections include course content and textbooks you may use, re-purpose, and distribute for your teaching and learning needs. Learn more about high-quality open courses, educational resources, and OER advocacy by checking out the rest of the series below:

Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Read moreOER Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks

OER Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collections include open courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that you can take to supplement your curriculum or simply explore new subjects. Learn more about high-quality open educational resources and OER advocacy by checking out the rest of the series below:

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Read moreOER Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs

OER Part 4: K-12 Resources

While most of the energy around Open Educational Resources is in higher education, affordable and open educational resources are important to K-12 educators as well.

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 5: Articles and Research

Return to OER overview

Curriki (

Curriki is a nonprofit global community that offers free K-12 learning resources for teachers, students, and parents. The resources on Curriki cover a wide range of subjects in the arts and sciences. Curriki offers over 55,000 Open Educational Resources and its 400,000 members represent nearly 200 countries.

Khan Academy (

Not-for-profit Khan Academy is an organization dedicated to providing a “free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” Content includes interactive challenges, assessments, and video in an array of topics for kindergartners through adult learners. Create an account to practice standardized tests and keep statistics on assignments and coursework you’ve completed, noting your progress as you learn.

Lumen Learning (

Lumen is dedicated to facilitating broad, successful adoption of OER at higher education and K-12 institutions. Lumen provides training and support for faculty members to teach open courses and also publishes open courses in over 30 high-demand subjects. Lumen’s catalog of open courseware includes courses in mathematics, general education, business, and science and technology.

Student Senate Support for the Open Textbook Initiative at George Mason University

The University Libraries is excited to report that the Student Government Senate has issued a resolution in support of open textbook adoption at Mason. This resolution encourages faculty to consider replacing expensive textbooks with open access materials and is a huge step on the path toward making college more affordable to Mason students.

What is an open textbook? It is a freely available digital book to which the author(s) has assigned a license permitting others, such as instructors, to use and adapt the content to suit their specific course learning objectives. That is, instructors can download, modify, remix, and share the item at no cost to themselves, their students, or their colleagues.

What do open textbooks offer students? Course material that is relevant, up to date, and varied in format, as well as accessible to all students as soon as a course begins. Concerns about the cost of pursuing a particular degree are diminished when textbook costs become immaterial. Not least of all, money that would have been spent on textbooks becomes available to help pay for rent, food, transportation, or even another course,.

What do open textbooks offer faculty? Some powerful incentives are:

  • the option to tailor course material selections to fit personal pedagogy,
  • the opportunity to work collaboratively with other disciplinary experts to select or create content that may be used and modified by colleagues around the globe, and
  • the ability to support students in a way that is deeply meaningful and purposeful, both inside and outside of the classroom.

The University Libraries invites your queries, discussion, and concerns about open textbooks. We are available to help you find these textbooks and other openly licensed materials to work with and integrate into your course(s). We are also experts in subscription content that may be appropriate for your course needs.

Please contact John Warren in the Mason Publishing Group about the open textbook initiative when curiosity overcomes you or you need assistance with existing open projects. As the expert in research materials specific to your discipline (both open and proprietary), your Subject Librarian is also available for consultation and assistance.

OER Part 5: Articles and Research

The following Open Educational Resources (OER) collection includes scholarly articles and other research on the benefits, uses, development, and adaptation of OER. Given the rapid growth of the OER movement, both in terms of the academic credibility and attention of policy makers it has gained, it is important for us to monitor the OER landscape as it continues to evolve. To learn more about open educational resources in higher education and how you can get involved in the OER movement, check out the rest of the series:

Part 1: Course Content and Textbooks | Part 2: Open Courses and MOOCs | Part 3: Grants and Advocacy | Part 4: K-12 Resources

Return to OER overview

Read moreOER Part 5: Articles and Research