Copyright and License FAQ
To contribute materials to the Energy and Equity Portal, you will need to make sure you hold the copyright to your materials or have permission from the copyright holder to contribute them to the Portal. To more effectively share your materials with others, you will also need to select a license that allows the Portal to share your materials with others, and outlines the ways others can and cannot use your materials. Below we answer some common questions about copyright and license.
Questions about other issues besides copyright and license? See our general FAQ and Technical Support page.
Copyright indicates who owns intellectual property, in this case, owns teaching materials. Copyright allows the copyright holder to have control over the use of the teaching materials. You need to worry about it because if you want to contribute your materials to the Energy and Equity Portal, you must hold the copyright to those materials and everything in them, or you must have permission from the copyright holder(s) to contribute them. Fortunately in most cases, if you created materials, you are automatically the copyright holder of those materials even if you haven’t done anything special to establish your copyright. The rest of this FAQ will help you address the most common situations in which you might not be the copyright holder of materials you want to contribute.
What is the difference between copyright and licensing?
Copyright is about who owns the intellectual property, and licensing is about the rules for how others can use that property. The copyright holder owns the intellectual property and has the right to use, distribute, or sell that intellectual property in any way that they see fit. The copyright holder may publish their materials under a license, which gives directions for how others can use or reuse this intellectual property. Licenses can encourage sharing and reuse by having agreed-upon standards for how materials can be shared (e.g, must give credit, commercial and non-commercial uses, etc.). The same materials can have different licenses assigned to different people, groups, or companies.
If I contribute my materials to the Portal, am I giving up my copyright/ownership of the materials?
No, the copyright holder remains the same when you contribute materials to the Portal. You will be asked to choose a license which outlines the way others can use your materials, but the copyright holder always retains the right to use, distribute, or sell their own materials.
Do I need to hire a lawyer or do anything special to copyright or license my materials?
No. Unless some special circumstances apply*, if you created materials, you are automatically the copyright holder of those materials even if you haven’t done anything special to establish your copyright. While it is not legally required to establish copyright, it is still recommended that you write “Copyright [your name] [year]” on your materials so that there is no confusion.
You also do not need a lawyer to establish a license for your materials; you simply need to state the license when you publish the materials. If you contribute your materials to the Portal, we will walk you through the process of selecting a license. We also recommend that you write “This work is licensed under a [license name] license” on your materials when you publish them.
How should I indicate the copyright and license on materials I contribute to the Portal?
When you contribute materials to the Portal, you will be required select a license for your materials. You can use our default recommended license (Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike) or select a different license. We will automatically assume that you, the contributor, are the author and copyright holder, but if that’s not the case, you can edit both the author(s) and the copyright holder(s) during the contribution process.
In addition to indicating the license and copyright holder(s) when you contribute your materials, we encourage you to add the copyright and license to the footer of all your files. For example, if you select our default license and if you are the copyright holder, the text in your footer should read:
Copyright [year of first publication] [Your name]. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike International 4.0 License.
Where can I get help at my institution with copyright and licensing questions?
Many institutions have offices that can provide faculty with help on questions around copyright and licensing. If you are at a larger institution, you may have a patent or technology transfer office. At a smaller institution, you could reach out to your office of the provost, chief academic officer, or your institution’s legal counsel. The staff at the library may also be able to help you with questions about copyright. Copyright policies are usually covered in your faculty handbook.
Can I contribute my materials if they contain copyrighted materials, like a diagram from a textbook?
Although we strongly encourage contributors to remove or replace all copyrighted content that they do not have permission to re-use, submissions to the Community Library are not checked for copyright issues. However, the editors will check all contributions to the Vetted Library for copyright infringements. These must be corrected before editorial approval. If we are notified of copyrighted content posted on the Portal without permission, we will remove the submission from open access and work with the contributor to update the material so that it can be returned to the Portal.
If your materials include components that you did not create yourself, for the Vetted Library you must make sure that:
- the license on these component(s) allows you to reuse them, and
- you give credit to the source.
If your materials include components that you copied from a textbook or downloaded from the internet, it is very likely that these images have licenses that do NOT allow redistribution. Before your materials can be accepted to the Vetted Library, you must replace these images with images that are in the public domain or have licenses that allow you to reuse them.
In many cases there are alternative images or diagrams available in the public domain or with licenses that allow reuse. For suggestions on how to find such images, see How do I find (or make) images that I can use in my materials? below.
My materials contain copyrighted images and/or text. Can I share them with other educators under "fair use"?
No. Under fair use, educators can use copyrighted images and/or text in their own teaching materials with their own students. “Fair use” does not apply to sharing materials on the Portal with other educators.
Can I use images created by someone else in my materials?
Yes, as long as the images have a license which allows reuse, and you follow the rules of the license for how the image may be reused.
(Copyright SERC, https://serc.carleton.edu/serc/authoring/copyright.html, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0)
You can always legally use images you have created yourself. You may also use images that have clear permissions or licenses for reuse. Here are some good sources to look for images you can reuse:
- Wikipedia: most images in wikipedia will give you explicit information about how they may be reused if you look at the image detail page (just click on the image to get there). Many of the images are in the public domain, or offered under a variety of Creative Commons licenses.
- Creative Commons Directory of images archives: thousands of sites which offer images under various Creative Commons licenses.
- Flickr: Many images on this photo archiving site are offered under useful licenses. You can use the advanced search to limit yourself to Creative Commons licensed photos.
- Wikipedia's public domain image page: Another directory of sites which have images with clear reuse information.
- Public domain images such as government agencies, although please check the agency website for use guidelines and proper attribution format.
Once you find an image you want to use, read the rules on how you may reuse it. You will likely need to give credit to the source (attribution). A good place to do this is in the image caption.
If I included images or small pieces from someone else in my materials, do I need to include them when I assign the copyright holder for my contribution?
No. Copyright, and the list of copyright holder(s), applies to your contribution as a whole publication. If you’ve included images or other small pieces from someone else, you don’t need to worry about the copyright for these pieces, as long as you have permission and have appropriately credited them within the resource.
What should I know about copyright if I created teaching materials with co-authors?
If you created these materials with co-authors, this is considered a “Joint Work” and all authors are joint copyright holders. We encourage you add all authors to these materials in the Portal and to check in with other authors before contributing these materials to the Portal, but doing so is not legally required. See the Stanford Library description of Joint Work for more details.
What if I want to contribute materials created by someone else?
If you are not the author of these materials, in most cases, you are allowed to contribute on behalf of someone else if and only if you have permission from one of the original authors or copyright holders.
Materials adapted from others
What if I have adapted my materials from others’ materials that are on the Energy and Equity Portal?
You have permission to adapt anything you find on the Energy and Equity Portal and contribute it as an adaptation. Once our adaptation feature is working, you will be able to mark your contribution as an adaptation to use our step-by-step process where we’ll ask you to identify the resource(s) you adapted from. Once you’ve answered these questions, we’ll make sure your resource is listed on the Portal with proper credit given to the original author(s). You don’t need to do anything else to secure permission or give credit.
What if adapted my materials from others’ materials that are NOT on the Energy and Equity Portal?
Before you can contribute materials adapted from resource(s) outside the Energy and Equity Portal, you must make sure that the license on the original resource(s) allows you to adapt and redistribute them. See our list of acceptable licenses. If you can’t find the license, ask the author(s) for permission to adapt and redistribute. If the resource(s) have an appropriate license or you have permission from the author(s), you may submit your adaptation to the Portal.
I adapted my materials from someone else's’ original resource. What licenses for this original resource do you accept on the Portal?
The license of the original resource you adapted your materials from must allow derivative works, or in other words, must allow you to make changes to the original and reshare them. We cannot accept adaptations of original resources with non-derivative licenses (no adaptations allowed). We can accept adaptations of materials where the original materials have any of the licenses in our list of acceptable licenses. If you have adapted from an original resource with a license that is not on this list, but that allows you to adapt and share, contact an editor for help.
If I adapted my materials from someone else, do I need to include them when I assign the copyright holder for my contribution?
No. If you have marked your contribution as an adaptation, we will make sure the original contributor is given credit as the original source of this material.
What if I created these materials as part of my normal teaching duties?
In most higher education institutions, if you created materials for your own courses as part of your normal teaching duties, you hold the copyright to those materials and your institution does not. See below for possible exceptions.
If you created these materials as part of the work of a federally-funded grant, then your institution likely holds the copyright to them, unless otherwise stated in the grant proposal or in a contract. You must check in with your institution’s grants office, research office, or other appropriate office to make sure that you have permission to contribute these materials to the Portal. If you have further questions about this, contact an editor for help.
What if I created these materials as part of a “work for hire” (received supplementary salary to create these materials)?
If you created these materials as part of an agreement that this is a “work for hire” and not as a part of your normal teaching duties (e.g. you received supplementary salary to create these materials) then your institution likely holds the copyright to them, unless otherwise stated in your contract. You must check in with your institution’s office of technology transfer, intellectual property office, or some similar office to make sure that you have permission to contribute these materials to the Portal. If you have further questions about this, contact an editor for help.
What if I’m worried that my institution has a restrictive intellectual property and copyright policy?
In most higher education institutions, if you created materials for your own courses as part of your normal teaching duties and not as part of a federally funded grant or work for hire, you hold the copyright to those materials. It is much less common, but possible, for an institution to have a more restrictive Intellectual Property and Copyright policy, in which the institution owns the copyright to all works created by their employees. If you are concerned that your institution might have such a policy, check with your institution’s administration to make sure that you have permission to contribute these materials to the Portal. If you have further questions about this, contact an editor for help.
Contributing materials where I don’t hold the copyright
What if I want to contribute materials, but someone else holds the copyright?
There are some cases where you are the author of these materials, but someone else holds the copyright. This could be because you sold the materials to a publisher, created them as part of a federally funded grant or work for hire, or for some other reason. You must ensure that the license on these materials allows you to distribute them or that you have permission from the copyright holder. If you have further questions about this, contact an editor for help.
There may also be cases where you are not the author or the copyright holder, but are submitting the materials on behalf of someone else. In this case, you are allowed to submit the materials as long as the license on these materials allows you to distribute them and you have permission from the copyright holder. Further, during the contribution process, you will have a chance to edit the author(s) and copyright holder, so that they are correct on the Portal.
What is a license and why do I need to choose one?
A license is a document that outlines how others can use your intellectual property (e.g, must give credit, commercial and non-commercial uses, etc.). Creative Commons licenses are a set of standard licenses that are used widely across the web. These licenses help others know what they can and cannot do with your materials according to which of these standard licenses you choose. Choosing a license encourages sharing of materials, because licenses make it clear to users how they are allowed to use your materials. Choosing a license does not limit or influence what you can do with your own materials. The copyright holder still has the right to use, distribute, or sell their own materials. Choosing a license when you contribute your teaching materials to the Portal makes it clear to others how they may use your materials.
Why do you recommend the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial Share-Alike (cc-by-nc-sa) license?
Under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike license, other users of the Energy and Equity Portal may use, modify, and share your materials as long as they give you credit and distribute their adaptation under the same license as the original (share-alike), but may not use them for commercial purposes without your permission (non-commercial). We recommend this license because it supports the Portal’s mission of making educational materials freely available and adaptable while giving credit to authors, and not allowing others to make money off your work without your knowledge or permission.
If you later decide to submit your materials to the Vetted Library, in order to support the ongoing maintenance of the Portal, we may ask your permission for the Portal to act as an agent to distribute your materials to commercial partners. We will never commercially distribute materials that are submitted only to the Community Library, and will never commercially distribute your materials without your permission.
What if the license I want to use is not in the list of acceptable licenses for contributions?
The Portal is a place where educators can find, adapt, and share teaching materials. Because of this commitment, the Portal cannot accept any materials with a license that does not allow them to be distributed (e.g., all rights reserved) or adapted (non-derivative licenses). If you want to contribute your materials using a license that is not in our list of acceptable licenses, but does allow distribution and adaptations, please contact an editor for help.
What’s the difference between a commercial and noncommercial license?
A non-commercial license means you allow others to use your materials, but not profit from them. A non-commercial license is a general restriction on others. As the copyright holder, you may still develop or approve for-profit uses of your content even if you shared it on the Portal under a non-commercial license. A commercial license means others can use your materials in a for-profit manner.
The Energy and Equity Portal allows you to choose a Creative Commons License from the list below. We do not allow you to choose a non-derivative license, as these licenses do not allow others to adapt materials, which is a key feature of the Portal.
- Creative Commons: 0 – Public Domain, no restrictions
- Creative Commons: BY – Attribution. No restrictions besides credits.
- Creative Commons: BY-SA – Attribution and Share Alike. Derivative works (adaptations) must have the same CC license.
- Creative Commons: By-NC – Attribution and no Commercial uses.
- Creative Commons: By-NC-SA – All of the above.