Thursday, April 1, 2010

Copyleft or copy-theft?

Creative Commons and Noncommercial use - what does it really mean? Can you help me understand this?

Please take the time to answer this poll (link) - I will post a summary when I get sufficient number of replies.

You might be familiar with Creative Commons and how they:

provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily
mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can
use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some
Rights Reserved."
Creative Commons works with four basic attributes, which are combined into a specific license:
Now, it's the "Noncommercial" I need your help with. (Again, here's the poll where I would love your feedback!)

How shall "Noncommercial" vs. "Commercial" purposes be interpreted? Is there a clear definition?

  • It is pretty clear that you can't sell somewith which is licensed as "Noncommercial". Ie, you can not make a postcard or a T-shirt of a non-commercial picture and sell it.
  • On the other hand I guess you can make a T-shirt and wear it yourself, or make a postcard and send to you friends?
  • Can you make a postcard or T-shirt and give it away? To your personal friends? On behalf of your employeer? If a corporation gives something away, even for free, it is in many cases a commercial reason for this.
It is quite common to apply a copyright model that let people reuse and embed content from the Internet (eg video files) given certain conditions. In many cases this includes a condition that the content "may only be used for non-commercial purposes".

At a first glance the interpretation of this sounds obvious. But beware, the definition of "Non Commercial" might not be as obvious as you thought. The interpretation is not crystal clear, and the formal meaning is in many cases more narrow than you might intend - both as a content creator, granting a "Non Commercial" license and as publisher/user, using "Non Commercial" content.

Let's have a look at the topic, starting with Creative Commons and then moving to some examples.

Creative Commons
Have a look at Creative Commons and the set of licenses they offer for creators and contributors that are looking for a crisp and clear way to apply a copyleft approach (rather than copyright) to their works and creations. In essence, this allows creators to apply a "some rights reserved" license to their works.

One of the attributes that can be part of a Creative Commons license attribution is the Non Commercial (NC) tag. Three out of the six available CC licenses includes this tag.

Now, what is meant by the NC tag? It turns out that this is not as obvious and straight forward as you would wish.

The license attribute
The short version of the Noncommercial attribute reads:


You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.
When you dig into the small print of the more legal version of a CC license including the NC attribute you find the text:


You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You [in Section 3 above] in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.
What does this mean?

The key phrase is "primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation".

This phrase is not as clear as you would wish, and in many cases I believe the practical interpretation applied by individuals differs. Especially as many probably doesn't read the fine print, and instead relies on the even more open-ended phrasing "noncommercial purposes only" in the Noncommercial attribute.

The problematic word seems to boil down to "primarily".

Primarily or Secondarily?

How do you define what's primarily and what's secondarily..?


Consider a few examples:


Private use:


  • You have a blog where you post "funny things" just for the fun of it.
  • You have a blog where you post "funny things" just for the fun of it. Also, just for the fun of it, you included some ads on the blog.
    You know that you'll probably not make any money from the ads (best case a few dollars a year). The reason you included ads are not to make money, but something else (like "I'd like cool ads on my blog" or "I'm trying to understand how ads work technically").
  • You have a blog where you post "funny things" just for the fun of it. The blog is hosted at a site that includes ads automatically (like eg. Facebook).
    The reason the ads are there is to finance the (free) service that hosts your blog.
  • You have a blog where you post "funny and useful things". The aim is to make yourself more attractive to employ.
Corporate use:

  • You are posting to a corporate, external blog. The aim of the blog is to promote the "know-how" of the company and to attract new customers.
  • You are posting to a corporate, external blog. The aim of the blog is to build the perception and brand of the company. All sales goes through other channels.
  • You are posting to a blog on your company's intranet. The aim is to share knowledge, which in the end might make your company more efficient and competitive.
  • You are posting to a corporate, external blog. The company is a non-profit organization, but you still charge for your services in order to finance the activities you do to eg. support victims of various disasters. The aim of the blog is to promote the "know-how" of the company and to attract new customers.
In which of the above cases would it be OK to use content with the Non-commercial attribution? Have your say in this poll.

A study from Creative Commons
Creative Commons published a report September 2009 on this topic, looking into how the online community defines and perceives the term Noncommercial. Interesting and recommended reading - but no clear conclusion of the definition. Read the announcement here.

Conclusions?
So, what's your take on the definition of Noncommercial? A no-brainer or a can of worms?

How do you apply the definition, or don't you you see this as applicable to you?

Please drop a comment below, and contribute to the poll!

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1 Comments:

Blogger Henrik Hjelte said...

And at what time is the non-commercialiness decided on? Originally non-commercial music like Sex Pistols (I assume they didn't intend to do it to make money). Then reunion concerts to bring in a buck when they are middle-aged. Originally non-commercial blog, but when the traffic starts to increase and you see the potential to do it for a living, you might want to include ads. Do you remove your old creative-comments material at that time? Anyway, you are now famous partially thanks to it.

April 5, 2010 at 11:56 AM  

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