Re-thinking My Creative Commons Licenses

Posted on by Brooke

I'm rethinking my copyrights.

Bethany Nowviskie wrote recently that she is dropping the "no-commercial-use" specification—the clause that prevents people from making money off her work—from the Creative Commons copyright she holds on much of what she makes. Briefly, she concludes that, if she is already making the content available for distribution, and requiring that the work be attributed to her, then the "no commercial use" clause only functions to slow the work's dissemination…and thereby to limit the dissemination of her name and ideas.

Creative Commons offers six kinds of license (scroll down). All six require others to grant you attribution for your work. To select a license for what you make, you have to decide whether others may re-mix your work into derivative works; whether others may use your work for commercial projects; and whether those using your work must license their work with the same license you have chosen.

Recently, I was collecting photographs from Flickr to use in a recorded presentation. In this case, the presentation is to be published on our school's web site. While we won't be "selling" the images, and the purpose of the presentation is educational, we are putting the video next to an Admissions link: not very different from how an overtly commercial site might wrap the images in clickable advertisements. Therefore, I had to restrict myself to Flickr images employing Creative Commons licenses permitting commercial use. You know, that thing that I myself don't allow for my own Flickr images. And I thought of Bethany. If someone wants to use my Hebrew learning images, and is willing to grant me attribution, do I want them to be frightened off by the fear that using them in a tuition-based context will violate my "non-commercial" clause? Even if they're used in a work published for profit…well, look, I do make some stuff for private distribution and (hollow laughter) potential profit, but if I've made something for open distribution anyway, I don't lose anything if someone incorporates it into a non-free work, and I gain by their attribution.

This weekend, in response to a Prof Hacker post, I was experimenting with making my syllabi available on GitHub for other teachers to "fork" (duplicate in whole or in part to re-mix into their own "branch" syllabi). I began to attach a "CC BY-NC" license (allowing distribution and derivative works but forbidding commercial use), when I thought of Bethany again. Almost anyone creating syllabi is making them for a course that charges tuition, a commercial use. I want my colleagues to use the work without fear, as long as they grant me attribution.

This blog is a different story. For one thing, I do not want the content re-mixed, because words taken out of context combined with attribution sounds to me like a recipe for abuse. Also, the most common commercial use of blog posts—scraping the RSS feed and surrounding the content with ads—is unethical: posts tagged "Education" wind up scraped onto sites that plug the worst of the for-profit-education scams. Here at Anumma, I'll keep the "CC BY-NC-ND" license, allowing distribution with attribution but forbidding re-mixing into derivative works and also forbidding commercial use.

But, the GitHub syllabi (on which I will write more soon) are available for attribution alone, and once I've had time to sit on it a bit, the Flickr images are likely to follow.

What are your copyright practices for your own open work? Do you agree that a "no-commercial-use" license is unnecessarily chilling for educational use?

[Re-thinking My Creative Commons Licenses was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 20121/04/23. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]