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Open Educational Resources (OERs): What is Creative Commons?

This guide is designed to help Minnesota State University Moorhead faculty find, create, evaluate, and incorporate Open Educational Resources and Affordable Textbooks in the classroom and online.

Creative Commons

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons (CC) is three things:

  • a set of legal tools (the licenses) for creators who wish to share their works in ways beyond the traditional copyright law standard
  • a movement of activists, policymakers, and creators with a shared set of core values
  • a non-profit organization that oversees the legal tools and helps energize the movement.

What does CC accomplish with its licenses?

It is much easier to create, remix, and share creations than it ever has been before. Traditional copyright regulation limits this type of activity as there is no simple way in copyright law to allow others to use your work. CC licenses allows creators to more easily share their works while remaining consistent with copyright law.

CC was created as a way to resolve the fundamental tension between copyright regulation and a creator's ability to share their works while following copyright law.


1998The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) was passed into U.S. law. This extended copyright terms from the life of the creator + 50 years to life of the creator + 70 years, affecting works copyrighted before 1978 that had not entered the public domain. Because of this Act, new material did not enter the public domain until January 1, 2019, now known as Public Domain Day.

1999 - Eric Eldred, an online publisher, et al. brought a complaint against the CTEA claiming that the Act was unconstitutional, in three parts:

1. Retroactively extending copyright law potentially gives Congress the ability to allow unlimited extensions, guaranteeing an unlimited time of copyright protection. This goes against the Constitution's Copyright Clause.
2. There must be a balance between freedom of speech and copyright law.
3. The Copyright Term Extension Act violates the doctrine of public trust "by withdrawing material from the public domain."

Judge June Green rejected the arguments later the same year.

2000 - Eldred et al. appealed the case to District Court, where they upheld the lower court's decision.

2001 - Creative Commons was established by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred as a non-profit with the mission to expand the “range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share" (Wikipedia).

2001 - Eldred et al. petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case. It was accepted for review in 2002.

2002 - Version 1.0 CC licenses were release to the public, free for use.

2003 - The Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision. By the end of the year, 1 million works had a Creative Commons license.

2004 - Creative Commons licensed works increased to nearly 5 million. Version 2.0 licenses were released this year.

2006 - 50 million works now had Creative Commons licenses. The photo-sharing website Flickr greatly aided this increase by offering Creative Commons licenses and widely publicizing it.

2007 - Version 3.0 licenses were released and 90 million works were covered by Creative Commons licenses.

2009 - CC0, a legal tool to waive legal rights, was released.

2010 - Creative Commons released the Public Domain Mark, used to label works already in the public domain.

2013 - Version 4.0 licenses were released.

2017 - By this year, over 1.4 billion works had Creative Commons licenses and continues to grow to this day.

Future - See the 2021-2025 Strategy


Sources: The History of Creative CommonsCreative CommonsCreative CommonsEldred v. Ashcroft

Creative Commons continues to provide licenses and other support for creators who want to share their work, but also work towards other goals.

Open Education

Open Education Resources (OER) are "teaching, learning, and research materials... that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license."

Open Access

Open Access Publishing is defined as "free, immediate, online availability of research articles combined with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment."

Open Culture
Also known as the free culture movement, is an effort to encourage creative and artistic works available "for legal use, sharing, remixing, repurposing, and reporting."

Open Data
Data is not covered by copyright laws, but that doesn't mean it is all freely accessible. Creative Commons supports efforts to make data freely available, allowing others to build upon previous work.

You can get involved in a variety of ways: