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Open Educational Resources (OER): Definitions

What is Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open educational resources is teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others – full courses, course material, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and another other tools, materials or techniques used to support access to knowledge.  Put another way, open educational resources (OER) are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching, learning, research, and other purposes.   These resources can be used and reuse without charge.  OER often have a Creative Commons or GNU license that state specifically how the material may be used, reused, adapted, and shared.


  • Copyright: Copyright law protects the creator of an original work (or the owner of the copyright for that work) by granting him or her exclusive rights to the work for a set length of time, including the rights to reproduce, publish, sell, and make derivative works.
  • Creative Commons: A nonprofit organization that offers a way for people to license their work in order to maintain the level of control they desire. There are a variety of licenses available ranging from very strict (similar to copyright) to completely open and free. Learn more here.
  • Fair Use: The Fair Use doctrine sets forth the rules and conditions which must be met in order for copyrighted work to be used for educational purposes. Learn more here.
  • Licensing: Licensing is the process by which the creator/owner of a work allows others to use (and/or reproduce/adapt) their works.
  • Institutional repository: An institutional repository is an online archive of materials hosted and maintained by an organization, such as a college of university. Institutional repositories allow institutions to house the scholarly work of their members online.
  • Open Access: Materials (scholarly articles, textbooks, datasets, etc.) which are open access are free to be used, distributed, remixed, and adapted by anyone, ideally immediately upon creation.
  • Public domain: Works which are not (or are no longer) protected by copyright are considered to be in the public domain, meaning they can be accessed and used freely by the public.

Source: IRSC Libraries

Fair Use Overview

Fair Use Explanation

Copyright and Primary Sources for Teachers

What is fair use?

Fair use is an exception to the exclusive protection of copyright under American law. It permits certain limited uses without permission from the author or owner. Depending on the circumstances, copying may be considered "fair" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research.

To determine whether a specific use under one of these categories is "fair," courts are required to consider the following factors:

1.    The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of 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

4.    The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

The distinction between what is fair use and what is infringement in a particular case will not always be clear or easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

Copyright protects the particular way authors have expressed themselves. It does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in a work.

The safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The Copyright Office cannot give this permission.

Keep in mind that even in an educational setting; it is not fair use to copy for a "commercial motive" or to copy "systematically," that is, "where the aim is to substitute for subscription or purchase." No factor by itself will determine whether a particular use is "fair." All four factors must be weighed together in light of the circumstances. See the U.S. Copyright Office's Copyright Information Circulars and Form Letters for "Circular 21-Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians."

If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney.

Source: IRSC Libraries