CommonLit Insights CommonLit's Commitment to Being "Free and Open"

How CommonLit uses Creative Commons licenses to open up their educational resources

CommonLit provides teachers and students with educational materials that are free and open, forever. Why? Because we believe every child deserves access to high quality learning resources and cost should not be a reason that they are denied that opportunity. Sharing our materials under a Creative Commons license is one of the ways we are able to ensure our educational resources remain free, accessible, and open.

In this blog post, you’ll learn exactly what we mean by “free and open.”

What is Creative Commons?

CommonLit keeps its materials “open” by sharing materials under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that is devoted to helping people overcome legal copyright barriers through advocacy, free and public licenses, and education.

It started like this: In 1998, the Copyright Extension Act was enacted which extended the term of copyrighted work in the United States for an additional 20 years. This means a copyright term equals the life of the creator plus 70 years. Lawrence Lessig and Eric Eldred realized the challenge this created for people who used inspiration from existing works to create new works. Together, they founded Creative Commons in 2001 with a simple purpose of making sure that information and creativity could be shared freely. In 2002, they released a set of free, public licenses that could be applied to work in order to set flexible terms where only some rights are reserved. Since 2001, Creative Commons licenses have been used for nearly 2 billion works and have been broadly adopted as the global standard for open copyright licenses by institutions, government, and people.

The Creative Commons logo, which says "better sharing, brighter future."

Which Creative Commons license does CommonLit use, and what does this license permit?

All of CommonLit’s educational materials are free and void of burdensome restrictions for teachers and students. Many of our educational materials — especially anything that CommonLit created/wrote — are also openly licensed under a Creative Commons license. CommonLit-created materials are made available under a Creative Commons, non-commercial, share-alike license, a.k.a. CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. This license enables teachers to remix content, reuse content, and share it freely.

Educators should remember a couple of best practices when using materials on our site with this license. Specifically, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, requires those who wish to reuse content to attribute the original creator (BY), use the resource for non-commercial purposes only (NC), and if a derivative is created, the user must use the same license (SA). In other words, teachers should remember to attribute CommonLit. Materials may not be sold or used for any for-profit endeavor. And all derivative works must be shared under the same license.

BY: Proper credit must be given to the creator. If possible, provide a link to [].

NC: The material can only be used for non-commercial purposes. In other words, our teaching resources cannot be reused for profit on tutoring or other websites.

SA: If you adapt or remix a lesson, you have to use the same CC BY-NC-SA license when you share the work publicly.

How do I know if a resource is licensed under Creative Commons?

One important thing to note is that our website consists of educational materials that are CC-licensed (e.g. anything that CommonLit authored), third-party licensed (e.g. the text of a story or poem that we didn’t write, subject to a traditional copyright), and public domain (e.g. a speech from a historical figure that isn’t subject to any copyright restriction).

Thankfully, we’ve made the process of differentiating between these licenses quite painless for educators. This past spring, we worked with the Director of Open Education at Creative Commons, Cable Green. He helped us develop our Open Access policy and update our website to include clear markings on our CC-licensed materials. These new markings on our digital lessons and other educational materials are very clear. They say: Unless otherwise noted, these materials are licensed under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

A teacher and student, smiling.

What does all of this mean for you — teacher, administrator, tutor?

In short, CommonLit is a free, flexible, open educational resource (OER) that allows you to adapt our content to fit your classroom needs. While we try to make our content for all learners, we know that being able to customize lessons for your classroom is crucial. With CC-licensed lesson components, we’ve cut out the red tape involved in most educational materials, and put the power back into your hands.

Additional resources:

Are you excited about using CommonLit in new ways? This helpful resource provides more information about different ways you can use our content.

Interested in learning more about our nonprofit’s mission and work? Our CEO, Michelle Brown, discusses why our platform will always be 100% free in this blog post.

Do you want to learn more about the various licenses on CommonLit, understand how you can use and remix our Creative Commons licensed resources? Sign up to attend an upcoming webinar.