All books created with support from the Rebus Open Textbook Community or using the Rebus Community Press are published under a Creative Commons CC-BY license, which states that anyone may use the content for any purpose, as long as they provide proper attribution to the original creators of the content.

CC-BY is the “most open” of the creative commons licenses, and allows others to: reuse, adapt, remix and redistribute the licensed content, so long as it is attributed to its original author(s), even for commercial purposes (see below!).

This position is shared by members of the Open Textbook community, who recently signed a joint statement advocating the use of the CC BY license when creating open textbooks. Read the full statement.


What is a CC-BY license?

The CC-BY Creative Commons license is also known as the “CC Attribution license”. Creative Commons explains the license in the following way:
You are free to:

  • Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format
  • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.
  • The licensor cannot revoke these freedoms as long as you follow the license terms.

Under the following terms:

  • No additional restrictions — You may not apply legal terms or technological measures that legally restrict others from doing anything the license permits.


  • You do not have to comply with the license for elements of the material in the public domain or where your use is permitted by an applicable exception or limitation.
  • No warranties are given. The license may not give you all of the permissions necessary for your intended use. For example, other rights such as publicity, privacy, or moral rights may limit how you use the material.


What is the benefit of a CC-BY license?

CC-BY is the most open of the Creative Commons licenses, which means that society at large can build upon content licensed this way in the easiest, freest and most effective ways. We are trying to help build an open information ecosystem, where not only can any student get access to textbooks for free, but further, anyone — another professor, a university, an app maker, or an artist — can build new value, new content and new services on top of this base layer of “public good,” the Open Textbook. This is exciting! Not only can we provide free educational content to students around the world; we can also help innovative educators find new ways to connect content, and learning, and new, perhaps better, ways to teach.


Why does Rebus require a CC-BY license?

There is one very practical reason: our funders, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation require us to use a CC-BY license. But beyond that, we agree that this license is the best license for Open Textbooks and OER. Our mission is to help make (great) free/open textbooks for every subject, in every language in the world. And we believe the more open those textbooks are, the more powerful the result will be.


Why can’t I use the other Creative Commons licenses such as ND, NC or SA?

Other Creative Commons licenses (namely no-derivatives, non-commercial and share-alike) violate the spirit of Open Textbooks and OER in education. In particular:

  • ND (No Derivatives): The ND license does not allow for reuse, revision or remixing, three of the five Rs. From our perspective, and the perspective of most people in the OER community, an ND-licensed textbook is not an open textbook.
  • NC (Non-commercial): While the non-commercial (NC) license is attractive to authors afraid others will profit from their hard work, it has been known to cause confusion that leads to less reuse, less adoption. Take this lawsuit, for instance, dealing with whether NC-licensed content can be printed by a commercial print shop for use in classrooms. In other examples, colleges have assumed that because they charge tuition, they can’t use NC-licensed OER. The NC license also reduces remix options (see how CC-licensed content can be combined).
  • SA (Share Alike):  This attribute requires that any derivative works are distributed with the same license as their predecessor. While in theory this is a great way to ensure the creation of more open content, it conflicts with other license attributes, which limits the possibility of remixing and reusing content, and can discourage future creators from using your work.


Does this also give commercial publishers the right to take my work and profit from it?

In theory, yes, anyone can do anything they want with CC-BY-licensed work as long as they provide attribution to its creators. Practice is very different, however.

The attribution requirement is a deterrent for anyone looking to profit from your work, especially if you clearly set out how you expect to be attributed, which in the case of books published with the support of Rebus will include a link to the original (free) content. If the attribution makes it clear to a potential buyer that they can find the content elsewhere for free, there is little interest for a commercial publisher to invest in creating a paid version.

Some authors use the NC license attribute to stop their content from being used as a part of a paid service, or a service offered by a for-profit company (e.g. Amazon Inspire). However, this is not a function of the NC attribute, which does allow NC content to be used by a third-party service, so long as the content is also available free of charge elsewhere.

While it may feel wrong that someone can make money from your work, even in an indirect way, our objective in creating open educational content is to build an ecosystem that has the power to transform education around the world. That ecosystem will most likely include some value-add, paid services or elements in order to sustain itself, but that does not detract from the considerable benefits for learners.


What about the images in my book?

There are two main ways to source images for your book; you can look for openly licensed images online, or you can commission work directly from an illustrator or photographer. Either way, you need to be sure the images have CC licenses, so they can be used both in your textbook and (hopefully) in any derivative content.


Can I include content in my textbook that is not licensed CC-BY?

Yes, as long as you follow these rules:

  1. Clearly designate where the non-CC-BY content starts and ends.
  2. Make sure that any non CC-BY content is attributed properly.
  3. When combining content with different licenses into new content, check that they can be remixed (See the table below)


What rights do I retain under the CC-BY license?

All of them! By putting a CC-BY license on your book, you retain the copyright, but are making a clear indication of what you allow others to do with your copyrighted content.


What does using a Creative Commons license mean in terms of copyright?

The Creative Commons licenses are specifically designed to enable Open content while working within the existing copyright system. They aren’t a radical departure, even though they might seem pretty radical if you’re not familiar with them. What they do is define explicitly what people can do with the copyrighted work, that normally, under copyright law, would require explicit permission  from the copyright holder.

Copyright is a legal scheme that asserts: “this is mine, and you can’t do anything with it unless I say so”. If you write a novel, no one can turn it into a movie unless you say so. If you create an illustration, no one can put it on a t-shirt unless you say so. In both of these situations, the “saying so” comes in the form of a license agreement between the creator of content, and a third-party who wishes to do something with that content. A content creator, while retaining copyright of their work, can give permission to others to use that content in different way by issuing them a license, or a specific licensing contract.

When you contribute to an Open Textbook, you are the creator of what you contribute, and you get, by default, all the rights that copyright laws give you in relation to the content you create. By applying a Creative Commons license to that content, you are granting permission for anyone to use your content, so long as they follow the conditions of the license, which in the case of CC-BY is to attribute you correctly as the original author.


What if someone steals my content?

In the context of a CC-BY license, “stealing” is a bit of a misnomer. The license gives permission for anyone to use your content so long as they attribute it to you, so the only way for someone to “steal” your content is if they use it without the correct attribution. In that case, the license is terminated for that person or organisation as soon as it is discovered that they are violating the license terms, and without a license, they may be liable for copyright violation. However, if they correct the issue within 30 days of discovery, the license is restored. This is important so that accidental violations aren’t excessively punished.

That said, to quote Open advocate Cory Doctorow, the problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity. In a world of abundant content, perhaps the greatest risk when creating more content is that your work won’t reach an audience. Our objective at The Rebus Community is to help create as many Open Textbooks as we can, and to make sure the greatest number of people get access to that content. We also want to see new services, tools and approaches that improve teaching and learning, building on this wonderful resource we are helping to create. This is the the broad mission of the Open Education movement, and one we fully support.