Open Licences

‘Open licences’ have developed as part of the digital revolution.

 There are a growing amount of learning resources and software available with virtual communities collaborating to develop and support them.  Resources with open licences are usually 'free' to use.

Key examples are:

  • ‘GNU General Public Licence' (GPL) - often used for code and software
  • 'Creative Commons' (CC) - often used for text, audio, images and video
  • 'Open Data Commons' Licences (ODC) - for database materials.

 The philosophy of open licences is one of sharing knowledge for the common good. They support acknowledgement of the creators and authors and their moral rights and provide opportunities for the work to be taken on, adapted or re-used by other users.  Free software is not just free of cost (like "free beer"). It is free as in freedom (like "free speech"). Free software gives you the freedom to use a program, study how it works, improve it and share it with others.” The growth of “communities” around topics of interest is a fundamental means to support the sustainability of new developments. For more information, see the Free Software Foundation and the History of Creative Commons.

Creative Commons

Creative commons logo. Two Cs.Creative Commons open licences are probably the ones you are most likely to encounter preparing lessons and working in the classroom. Since it began in the USA in 2001 yhe use of Creative Commons licences has spread worldwide and they used by organisations of all types and by indivduals. If you re-use someone's work and it has a Creative Commons licence attached to it you are, in most cases, asked to acknowledge or attribute the original creator and in many cases you are asked to carry on the use original licence in your new use of it – a process called ‘sharealike’.  ‘Wikipdeia’ has used Creative Commons since 2009 for its text and image resources alongside GNU FDL and public domain materials – though users outside the USA should check how the copyright of, in particular, images applies for their country - the UK is different to the USA where Wikipedia is based. 


Head of a gnu. The emblem of the GNU licenceGNU licences are more commonly found in software. ‘Open Office’ uses a GNU LGPL licence for its code. ‘Audacity’ the free-to-download, audio editing tool uses GNU GPL for its software and Creative Commons for its website licence. The ‘Copy Rights and Wrongs’ website uses free software called ‘Joomola’ which is released under a GNU GPL licence.

Open Source

 'Open Source' is the generic term for digital code made openly available for other developers to work with and develop further. In its cocneption it is philosophically at the heart of how many of the ioneers of the digital world saw it working - people sharing and workinmg together without boundaries. Making use of many people's brains to get further. Having people create things that the original creator might never think of.

Open Education Resources

Open Education ResourceOpen Educational Resources (OER) are learning materials that are freely available to use, remix, and redistribute. The Open Education Resource (OER) initiative sets out to provide a way for the 'education', 'teaching' and 'learning' community to share resources, expertise and knowledge on a global basis. Creative Commons provides the legal and technical infrastructure essential to the long-term success of OER, making it possible for educational resources to be widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable.
 OER Commons gives uptodate information and useful background
 OER & Creative Commons

Some UK Initiatives

Union Jack: emblem for United Kingdom The UK government uses  Open Government Licence or OGL to encourage public sector information holders (not personal data of course) to make their information available for use and re-use without indivduals or orginisations, including schools, having to ask for permission. The OGL is compatible with Creative Commons (CC) and Open Data Commons (ODC) but whereas CC covers copyright and ODC covers database rights the OGL covers both aspects in one licence and is UK wide.  It requries re-users to acknowledge the source and add the link to an online description of the licence. OGL will also cover crown copyright materials and a wide range of data from government and public sector sources in the UK such as The National Archives. It does not cover Public Domain materials or a situation where copyright has expired. It does cover open source code originated by the Crown but doesn't supercede code developed from code already subject to another open source licence. OGL is used for the resources of the (Open) initiative 

Creative archive logoThe Creative Archive licence is a derivative of the Creative Commons licence used by the Creative Archive Group including the British Film Institute, the Open University and Teachers TV who all use it for some of their materials. The BBC uses another variant for it’s ‘Digital Revolution’ project.

 'Teachers TV' was a broadcast channel commissioning and distributing materials for professional devlopment for serving schools and colleges and was based in the UK. It was discontinued in 2010. The 3,500, 15 minute, programmes, now protected by Crown Copyright, are available through a number of non-exclusive distribution agreements.
   List of sources of TTV videos (streamed) from the DfE. DfE and TTV resources


Open licences don't ignore copyright; they are a way of helping creators and authors make their wishes clear and of  helping everyone to share resources and to work together using digital technologies.

Open Data icon What are the consequences and opportunities of making data more open? Here is Tim Berners-Lee - often called the father fo the world wide web - talking about being able to join up data from different sources - about "Linked Data". It was recorded in 2009 at TED and runs for about 15 minutes. The little molecule icon is the symbol for linking up open data.

Tim Berners Lee talking at a TED. Source: