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Low-Cost, No-Cost, and Open Educational Resources (OER)

Important Definitions

The Texas State Senate Bill 810 definition:

(4-a)  "Open educational resource" means a teaching, learning, or research resource that is in the public domain or has been released under an intellectual property license that permits the free use, adaptation, and redistribution of the resource by any person. 

SB 810 is a law passed in 2017 that did the following:

  • Required Universities and bookstores to mark which courses use OER materials.
  • Called for a feasilibity study into the possibilty of a statewide OER respository.
  • Empowered the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create an OER grant program.

For more information, check out ACC's page on SB 810, or look at SB 810 itself.

The SB 810 definiton is deceptively restrictive, as not all openly licensed material is considered OER.

An open license is:

a set of conditions applied to an original work that grant permission for anyone to make use of that work as long as they follow the conditions of the license.

Open licenses allow a creator to give permissions for the use a of a material while retaining copyright. The primary difference between traditional copyright permissions and an open license is the ability to redistribute. Some open licenses allow for adaptation and remixing.

OER typically use Creative Commons Licenses in some combination of the following components:

Creative Commons Icons

CC Icon Abbreviation Meaning
CC BY BY Attribution – one must cite the source if used.
CC NC NC Noncommercial – one cannot make money off of it.
CC SA SA Share Alike – one can only reuse the resource if your CC license is the same as theirs.
CC ND ND No Derivatives – one cannot alter and redistribute the derivative work

Often in OER organizations and projects, you will find a saying much like the three R's of recycling. For OER, it is the five R's:

Users have the right to make, archive, and ‘own’ copies of the content.
Content can be reused in its unaltered form.
Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered; [users] have the ability to change the information presented in the OER.
The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new.
Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised, or remixed form. SPARC, Open Education.

In the last fold, we discussed that redistribution was the primary difference between traditional copyright permissions and openly licensed material. In the most common case, the difference is apparent in how you get your students to instructional material in Blackboard:


  • Linking to a resource in Blackboard is NOT redistribution.
  • If you are not redistributing, you do not need to find openly licensed material; instead you only need material that your students can access.


  • Putting a PDF on Blackboard IS redistribution.
  • Very, very few of the materials licensed by the library allow for redistribution. If you want to put the pdf on blackboard, you generally need openly licensed materials. 

OER-adjacent materials that are often misattributed as OER can be:

Public/Free Access

These materials are free to read, but do not have permissions for redistribution.

For example:

  • NIH Public Access Policy
    • This requires NIH-funded research to be available in PubMed Central, but does not require that creators use an open license.
  • IES Public Access Policy
    • This requires IES-funded research to be available via ERIC, but does not require that creators use an open license.
  • NFPA Standards
    • The NFPA allows the public to view standards, but reserves the right to charge for standards.

This classification also includes the bulk of non-scholarly content on the internet, including blogs, YouTube videos, and websites with traditional copyrights.

Institutionally Licensed Resources

These materials are made free to read by license agreements between the library and the publisher. Institutional licenses made by the library often work very different from user licenses, and very few allow for redistribution.

  • For ebooks the library tries to negotiate for unlimited access licenses, which allow an unlimited number of simultaneous users to use a resource.
  • Check each resource to see how many people can use a resource at once.

Click on the No-Cost Resources tab on the left to learn more.

Low-Cost Resources

These materials are available from the publisher for a cost of less than $50. This can take many forms, such as:

  • Publishers offering ancillary materials for Open Source textbooks for a small fee.
  • Publishers offering rental or subscription access to textbooks at a lower cost.
  • Rental services making deals with publishers to offer textbooks at a lower price.

Click on the Low-Cost Resources tab on the left to learn more.

Open Access

“By 'open access' to the literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself." 

Since much of the focus on Open Access is on the ability to redistribute, most Open Access Resources have an open license. This means that OER and Open Access are often used interchangeably, although OER technically refers to educational materials, and Open Access refers to research. As some research can be used as educational material, an article can be both OER and OA.

The Fair Use Defense

The Fair Use Doctrine is a legal defense used to limit copyright, rather than a right. Since it is a legal defense, it can be difficult to predict what are acceptable usages, so we do not recommend reliance upon Fair Use as a means to create No-cost resources.

Something may be considered fair use if it is using the copyrighted work for:

  • Criticism
  • Comment
  • Reporting
  • Academic


The following are considerations involved with fair use of copyrighted materials:

Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes: Courts look at how the party claiming fair use is using the copyrighted work, and are more likely to find that nonprofit educational and noncommercial uses are fair. This does not mean, however, that all nonprofit education and noncommercial uses are fair and all commercial uses are not fair; instead, courts will balance the purpose and character of the use against the other factors below. Additionally, “transformative” uses are more likely to be considered fair. Transformative uses are those that add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work.
Nature of the copyrighted work: This factor analyzes the degree to which the work that was used relates to copyright’s purpose of encouraging creative expression. Thus, using a more creative or imaginative work (such as a novel, movie, or song) is less likely to support a claim of a fair use than using a factual work (such as a technical article or news item). In addition, use of an unpublished work is less likely to be considered fair.
Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole: Under this factor, courts look at both the quantity and quality of the copyrighted material that was used. If the use includes a large portion of the copyrighted work, fair use is less likely to be found; if the use employs only a small amount of copyrighted material, fair use is more likely. That said, some courts have found use of an entire work to be fair under certain circumstances. And in other contexts, using even a small amount of a copyrighted work was determined not to be fair because the selection was an important part—or the "heart"—of the work.
Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work: Here, courts review whether, and to what extent, the unlicensed use harms the existing or future market for the copyright owner’s original work. In assessing this factor, courts consider whether the use is hurting the current market for the original work (for example, by displacing sales of the original) and/or whether the use could cause substantial harm if it were to become widespread.

Benefits of OER

To quickly summarize the potential benefits of OER:

For Students

  • Lower costs of attending university
  • Less of a loan burden after school, reducing payments and defaults

For Faculty

  • More control over instruction
  • More diverse course content
  • Reducing the need to deal with publishers and the bookstore
  • Students having course materials at the start of the semester

For the University

  • Improvements in retention, graduation, and loan default rates.


As Perceived by Faculty (Chae & Jenkins, 2015)

  • Lack of time
  • Uninviting climate
  • Copyright uncertainty
  • Lack of technology and technology skills
  • Difficulty in reviewing materials
  • Difference in course specifications


  • Accessibility
  • Sustainability
  • Regulations

Many of these challenges can be solved through the use of Low-Cost and No-Cost resources. Look at the Low-Cost and No-Cost tabs to the left for more information. 

Further Information