[cc-licenses] CC licenses version 4.0: some thoughts on noncommercial

Heather Morrison hgmorris at sfu.ca
Wed Dec 21 13:07:17 EST 2011

On 2011-12-21, at 7:36 AM, drew Roberts wrote:

> On Tuesday 20 December 2011 14:31:32 Heather Morrison wrote:
>> I strongly advocate for understanding the need for creators to make a
>> living, and including those who share as much as they can while reserving
>> some rights so that they can make a living in the commons.
> This is very confusing. Is it a commons or not. Do people share the works in 
> common or not?
> NC is not a commons way of sharing. One person gets to make money the rest of 
> the world does not. This is in no way sharing the work in common is it?
> Can you explain exactly what you mean here and perhaps give some more concrete 
> examples?

One example from the area of scholarly publishing would be a small not-for-profit book publisher. If there were lots of subsidy money to pay for salaries and rent, they may well be happy to give away all rights. However, it is much more common for such publishers to have to recover some or all of their costs. In this case, reserving commercial rights such as the sale of print-on-demand or other value-added versions, then they can give as much to the commons as they can (free to read, perhaps even free to re-use) while still being able to publish. If we insist that this is not free, it is not a contribution at all to the commons, then they may either retreat to not making anything available for free at all, or they may follow our advice and give away their work, in which case someone else who did none of the work of creating the books might be better at business than they are, and they may lose money and even go out of business. 

I would argue that a healthy commons requires small independent creators. Such creators need food and shelter like the rest of us, and this may mean reserving commercial rights to their works. This is one of the reasons that I think a healthy commons must embrace the noncommercial approach.

Another example from scholarly publishing: if publishers give away their journals as CC-BY, then other publishers can sell the journals. These other publishers cannot of course stop the original journals from functioning - but there is nothing to stop them from working with others to lobby for laws, such as trade laws, that prevent the original journals from receiving needed support such as public funding.  If this happens, then the original journals can disappear, and what was CC-BY can become toll access only. SA will help here too, but only NC specifically addresses the very real potential of corporate capture of the commons.

Another example is my own blog, which is licensed CC-BY-NC-SA. At this point in time, I am fortunate enough to have a full-time job and no need to make money from this blog. However, in this world there are no guarantees for any of us, and if at some point I needed money, I would be very glad that I did reserve rights to sales of my work. If I were to change the license to CC-BY, then someone else could legally mirror my blog and sell ads on their copy. This would make me angry, not only at the person selling ads on a copy of my blog, but also at anyone who told me that I should license my work as CC-BY. At that point, I can see myself changing my standard licensing practise to all rights reserved, or not using CC licenses at all. I suspect that many people would have the same reaction in this situation.


Heather Morrison, MLIS
Doctoral Candidate, Simon Fraser University School of Communication
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

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