Copyright law, free licenses, fair use, public domain

To create your own resources and publish them online, you need to now a little bit about copyright law. Free licenses will also be useful, as they’ll simplify your choice when deciding what permissions you want to include (i.e., what others will be able to do with it).

Copyright law – basic information
So, what should you know before we start looking for open educational resources?

Copyright law (denoted by the symbol: ©) is a legal term describing the rights pertaining to the creator of the work or regulations authorizing the creator to decide how the work can be used and by whom.

Copyright law defines a work as any manifestation of creative effort with an individual character, in any format, regardless of its worth, purpose, or method of creation.

That’s why most of the information that we use is under copyright law. Not only books, songs, films, but e-mails from a friend, cell phone pictures, and comments on a forum all qualify as works. They immediately are restricted by copyright. The work doesn’t have to have been previously distributed. A photograph taken by you is a work regardless of if you publish it. The law protects a work from the moment of its creation.

Work and creator
Who is the creator of a work?

Technically, we are all creators; during a lecture or meeting, if we doodle a drawing in our margins, that doodle becomes a work. All of our presentations, lectures, assignments, and exercises created by us mean that we are creators. Have you ever considered who can use your works?

What is a work?

  • Must be the result of human effort.
  • Must be a creative work.
  • Must have an individual character.

If a work, created from our mind and with our hands contains original contact, we’re dealing with a work and a creator.

A work can be:

  1. original;
  2. derivative – meaning, it was created using another work (ex. translation, collage);
  3. inspired – meaning it was created thanks to inspiration from another work (this category includes parody and pastiche).

Copyright law

Copyright law can be divided into moral rights and economic rights..

Moral rights:

  1. right to attribution;
  2. right to the integrity of a work;,
  3. right to first distribution.

The work that we use must be properly attributed with the name or pseudonym of the creator. Claiming copyright over someone else’s work or citing a fragment of a work without attribution is plagiarism. The work’s content cannot be modified. Moral rights are eternal and inalienable – we must always follow them.

Economic rights are negotiable and contain a time limit. They are like a monopoly – the creator has the right to decide who use their work and how. However, economic rights are limited by fair use laws. These are legal methods of using the work, and you don’t need to request the author’s permission. Examples of fair use include:

  • copying and disseminating the work for personal use, or friends and family;
  • citing the whole work or fragments with attribution;
  • downloading the work from the internet.

Because economic rights are negotiable, the creator can transfer them to a different person or company. After death, the creator’s descendants can hold the economic rights.

Economic rights in Poland lapse 70 years after the creator’s death. The collection of works whose economic rights no longer apply are known as the public domain. You can use works from the public domain with no restraints.

(After:, Fundacja Nowoczesna Polska, accessed: 3.01.2020).

Check out this infographic, which presents a brief summary of copyright law.

Public domain

The public domain is seen as a public good: a collection of works that anyone can use freely, the only limitations stemming from individual copyright law as the economic rights have already expired, or were never relevant to the work. A work enters the publication domain upon the expiration of its economic rights, which in Polish law takes places 70 years after the creator’s death.

Works in the public domain can be freely used. However, the fact that a work is in the public domain does not mean that its moral rights have expired – if we use the work, we must attribute the author.

(After: Przewodnik po otwartych zasobach, wyd. 5,, access: 3.01.2020).

Tutaj znajdziesz instrukcję korzystania z domeny publicznej w instytucjach dziedzictwa.

Zobacz też infografiki dotyczące użycia materiałów z domeny publicznej:

Free licenses

The worldwide method of securing and protecting the rights of creators is copyright law. In Poland, it is regulated by the February 4, 1994 Act on Copyright and Related Rights. Copyright law lasts 70 years after the death of the creator, or the last co-creator. Copyright law is rather restrictive in that it to a large degree limits the ability to use the work. In terms of the burgeoning digital world, copyright laws do not take into consideration new methods of publication, communication, and usage of works. These limitations were the starting point for creating alternative licensing methods – free licenses, which are more liberal for digital resource users.

We encourage you to make use of Creative Commons (CC) licenses, which are well described on the creators’ page. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses, because it’s important to utilize them mindfully:

Take a look at an infographic as well: Creative Commons Licenses.

To create your own resources and publish them online, it’s important to know about the basics of copyright law. Free licenses are very handy, as they simplify deciding to what degree we want to make our works available (in other words, what others can do with our works).

It may seem complicated at first glance, so we’ve collected some infographics and posters that will help you learn more about the most important laws that pertain to creating your own resources.

Copyright law

Open educational resources

Dozwolony użytek edukacyjny

Domena Publiczna - grafika i muzyka

Creative Commons Licenses