Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo
Introduction to Intellectual Property

3.10 Alternative Forms of Copyright

Introduction to Intellectual Property3.10 Alternative Forms of Copyright

An image of a Creative Commons pin, with the large letters C C.
Figure 3.16 (credit: Kristina Alexanderson via flikr / CC BY 2.0)

Learning Objectives

After completing this section, you will be able to

  • Understand how alternative forms of copyright are emerging in today’s increasingly digital ecosystem.

Up to now, we have focused on traditional copyright situations in which an author usually pursues some sort of monetary gain in exchange for the use of their creative work as well as situations in which the author also wants to prevent any alteration of their work. But what if an author simply wants to get their work out before the broadest possible readership and monetary gain is not an issue? What if an author would welcome others adding to the original work? In these cases, there are new kinds of copyright licenses that may be employed by authors.

Creative Commons

The development of the Creative Commons represents a voluntary private sector alternative to traditional copyright that coordinates the creation and consumption of content among a wide variety of individuals and institutions—all without a hint of government intervention. In doing so, Creative Commons captures a whole section of the market for which broad dissemination of content and not financial gain is key, which is something that could not be done as effectively by either traditional copyright or the public domain.

The Creative Commons License is currently available in six flavors:

All of these licenses require the work to be copyrighted because the Creative Commons license is based on copyright. Although Creative Commons licenses can provide authors with added opportunities to have their work distributed and used, these licenses do not allow authors to limit any of the rights otherwise available under copyright law, such as fair use.

Creative Commons licenses also cannot be revoked, which means that if copies of your work are distributed under a Creative Commons license, they will always be distributed that way. If, for example, you distribute your amazing new video under a Creative Commons license and it generates five million page views on YouTube—and then 20th Century Fox offers you a seven-figure deal for exclusive rights to distribute your video—you will not be able to prevent everyone on the planet from continuing to distribute your video for free on the Internet.

Open Access

Another alternative copyright approach is called open access, founded by the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002. Open access encourages scholars to provide the fruits of their research online without expectation of payment.xxxix The aim here is to open up scholarly research far more widely than is currently the case, but open access adherents face a key challenge in the fact that many scholarly articles are published in expensive journals as “works made for hire.” This means that the rights belong to the journals, not the authors. But open access supporters are working with publishers to try to overcome this limitation and create more opportunities for scholarly research to be made more widely accessible at lower cost.

A symbol for open access, which is an open padlock.
Figure 3.17 (credit: art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, and JakobVoss via Wikimedia Commons / CC0)

Finally, open source software licensing also offers an alternative to traditional copyright. An open source license for computer software allows the source code to be used, modified, and/or shared under certain defined terms and conditions set by the Open Source Initiative, an educational, advocacy, and stewardship organization formed in 1998. An open source license allows end users to modify the source code for their own purposes. Open source licensed software is mostly available free of charge, though this does not always have to be the case.


  • xxxix Chan, L., Cuplinskas, D., Eisen, M., Friend, F., Genova, Y., Guedon, J., Hagemann, M., Harnad, S., Johnson R., Kupryte, R., Manna, M., Rev I., Segbert, M., Souza, S., Suber, P., & Velterop J. (2002, February 24). Budapest Open Access Initiative. Retrieved from
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute The Michelson 20MM Foundation. Changes were made to the original material, including updates to art, structure, and other content updates.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Mar 31, 2023 The Michelson 20MM Foundation. The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.