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I would like to share under a Creative Commons license some course material (slides) I created. However, I used (abused?) of duly cited non-cc sources such as books etc. to prepare the course material.

Does using copyrighted material to prepare a course prevent to distribute the slides and source under a CC license? What would be the best way to deal with such a situation, which I believe is quite common in academia?

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    What do you mean exactly when you say you used copyrighted material to prepare a course: What licence was attached to that material? How did you use it - have you included some of it in your slides (for example, have you taken images, many paragraphs of text, and copied & pasted them?) – EnergyNumbers Oct 21 '14 at 8:07
  • I copied 1 or 2 figures verbatim (with proper citation) from statistics books. In some parts, I followed (and cited) the content/organisation of the class textbook quite heavily (not copied though). – meriops Oct 21 '14 at 12:15
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I copied 1 or 2 figures verbatim (with proper citation) from statistics books.

You cannot release these figures under a CC license. Even if we assume that you have the right to use them in this case, for example under fair use, you don't have the right to authorize others to use them in potentially very different ways.

However, you can easily get around this by excluding the figures from the CC license that applies to the rest of the slides. See, for example, this blog post for further discussion of this issue.

In some parts, I followed (and cited) the content/organisation of the class textbook quite heavily (not copied though).

This is a trickier issue. The fundamental question is whether your slides could be considered a derivative work of the class textbook. If so, then they are themselves a copyright violation if done without permission. If not, then I think you're OK.

I'm not a lawyer and do not know how to draw a clear line for what constitutes a derivative work. My understanding is that summarizing or explaining another work is not necessarily a derivative work, but for comparison an "abridgment" or "condensation" is a derivative work (under U.S. law, at least). Where your slides fall on this continuum presumably depends on exactly what you did. As a non-expert, I'd guess that you're fine unless you followed the book rather closely, but you should consult with an expert about the details of your situation if it really matters.

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The copyrighted material must be omitted or replaced in your course material before you can release it under a Creative Commons license, except in cases where you have express permission to distribute the copyrighted work. In many cases, it is not especially difficult to get permission for this kind of use, just send a letter to the copyright holder. Most publisher's are willing to grant permission for limited use and distribution.

The materials distributed for MIT OpenCourseWare are distributed with a CC license and are full of examples of both use cases (use with permission, and omission of copyrighted material).

I am not certain, but it may be that your use (release under CC) of copyrighted material with permission could change the licensing status of the included material depending on how it's incorporated in your work.

It's also worth noting that CC licenses cannot be revoked. Thus, if you release your course material under a particular CC license, others will always have the right to use your slides under that license.

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