Copyright Considerations

Licensing Your Open Textbook

New open textbooks created at Ryerson should ideally should be released with a CC-BY 4.0 International license.

A page called “About the Book” should be added to the front matter including the following sentence about licensing:

This open textbooks has been published openly using a Creative Commons license, and is offered in various e-book formats free of charge, or as a printed book available at cost from a printing service like the Ryerson University Campus Store or Copyrite.

Information about licensing should also be added to the book information section of PressBooks. This information will then appear as the footer on each page of the online version.

Licensing an Adaptation

If you are adapting an existing open textbook, your additions can be released with a CC-BY license, but the rest of the book must be released under the license of the original book. In other words, you need to respect the license of the original work. You can only attach a CC-BY license to the parts of the book you have created.

However, if the textbook you are adapting has a Share-Alike license attached to it, you can only release the book with the same license as the original. The Share-Alike clause means that you must use the exact same license that was used in the original for ANY adaptation.

The license should be noted in a few places in the book.

  1. In the preface of the book there should be a statement that makes it clear that the book is a derivative of an original textbook.
  2. There should also be a list of what changes were made so readers know exactly what parts are new and what parts are from the original source.

As an example, in the preface of the book, you could say:

This version of Collaborative Statistics is a modified version of Collaborative Statistics by <authors name>. Changes to the original version of the book are listed at <url or page number with a summary of changes>. The original version of this book was released under a <insert license here> and is copyright by <if original has copyright include that here>. The changes to this book listed on <insert location of summary of changes> are released under a CC-BY license and are copyright by <authors name>. You are free to use, modify or adapt any of this material providing the terms of the Creative Commons licenses are adhered to.

The following example shows a license for a modified textbook hosted by the BCcampus Open Textbook library:

This version of Modern Philosophy is a derivative copy of Modern Philosophy created by Alex Dunn, who based his work on the original Modern Philosophy book create by Walter Ott. This version of Modern Philosophy is released under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. The only modifications made to this version from both the original and the modification done by Alex Dunn the original is the format has been changed. No content has been modified. The original version of Modern Philosophy was created from public domain resources by Walter Ott with contributors from Antonia LoLordo and Lydia Patton. Contributions not in the public domain and created by Walter, Antonia or Lydia for the original were released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Alex Dunn’s derivative version was also released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Remember to include a summary of the substantial changes you made to the textbook. You don’t have to note small things, like fixing spelling mistakes or minor stylistic changes. Concentrate on acknowledging substantial changes. An example might look like:

The modifications from the original textbook include:

  • A new chapter (chapter 4) was added covering Feminist Theory
  • Chapter 2 was rewritten to remove references to American data and replaced with Canadian data
  • The topic “Unusual Behaviour” in Chapter 8 was modified to remove references to dyslexia

Keep in mind that the person reading this book could be viewing a printed copy or an electronic version, so avoid using page numbers as references. Instead, use topics and chapters as reference points.

Don’t make it too complicated

Track all your changes within reason. If you are making a major revision and you try to be exhaustive with your attributions, the task can quickly become onerous. Creative Commons has a guide called Best Practices for Attribution, which says that while you should try to attribute as clearly as possible, attribution should not be too complicated. Since the goal of many Creative Commons licences is to make remixing and reusing of content easier, if you are heavily adapting content the expectation is that you make a “reasonable” effort to document the origin of the material. Don’t sweat it if you make more general attributions, as long as all your sources end up on your reference list at the end! You can also use a traditional academic mode of citation if you find that easier.


Attribution: “Licensing for a Newly Created Open Textbook” from the BC Open Textbook Authoring Guide.  “Licensing an Adaptation” from the BC Open Textbook Adaptation Guide. Changes made to customize to Ryerson University. New section “Don’t make it too complicated.”




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Ryerson Open Textbook Authoring Guide by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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