UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Should Open Content Be Open For Commercial Exploitation

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19 Oct 2007

I suspect many of my peers who make their content available under a Creative Commons licence have, like me, chosen an Attribution, Non-commercial ShareAlike licence,  which permits the content to be reused for non-commercial purposes provided acknowledgements are given and the same rights are applied to the derived materials.

But should I be taking a more liberal approach, I wonder? Should I permit commercial exploitation of the content? This, after all, has been the approach taken in the open source world, which provides an environment for commercially-viable software vendors to thrive.  From a macro-economic perspective, this approach should stimulate the economy and from a political perspective this would reflect the current political climes, in which the public and private sector aim to work together for the benefit of all (no cynical comments, please).

Is it time to move to an Attribution ShareA Like licence?  I’m beginning to think that this is desirable – I have suggested previously that allowing government-funded data (such as OS mapping data) to be made available for commercial exploitation by others would be beneficial to society; it strikes me that I’m being hypocritical if I fail to allow my resources to be reused in a similar fashion.

 What do you think?

9 Responses to “Should Open Content Be Open For Commercial Exploitation”

  1. Hi Brian,

    As it happens, I was thinking about licences just the other day, and found myself wondering about your use of a CC BY-NC-SA license here, while you also post your weblog content to Facebook under the terms:

    “By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.”

    Those two things can co-exist: you can grant Facebook a different licence from your “default” licence offered here for the same content. But your readiness to pipe stuff at Fb (which I am rather more reticent about doing – the stuff I send to Fb tends to be mainly the one-liner-Twitter-like or any-film-involving-Mel-flipping-Gibson-obviously-gets-nul-points sort of content) did make me wonder whether you really intended to maintain the NC aspect of the licence here.

    FWIW, on eFoundations, we currently use just a CC BY licence, and don’t even ask for SA.

    For my personal (non-work) stuff elsewhere, (where I’ve got as far as getting my act together to put a licence on it!) I do tend to use CC BY-NC-SA, because I made the decision that – political climes regardless – I personally didn’t want other parties using my stuff for commercial purposes without coming and asking me and negotiating a license with me. I say this like it is remotely likely…. ;-)

    There yer go: no cynical comments at all!

  2. Hi Pete
    You’ve raised the issue I’ve been thinking about.
    On your Facebook profile page you have added the Flickr application which displays 195 photos you have on Flickr. Does this mean you have granted Facebook the right to commercially exploit those photos – or, as the data is held on Flickr servers and not Facebook, is this not the case? We might not know until a court case sets a precedent. However it is useful to air the issues.
    As you suggest, two different licences can co-exist. And from my point of view, I’m beginning to think that such commercial exploitation is OK. However I appreciate that others may have different views. My view is that we need to have the informed consent.

  3. To answer the specific question about my Flickr photos, yes, they are the exception to my “I only give Fb my one-line trivia” rule-of-thumb. My interpretation was that in adding that application, I was posting those small versions of my images to Fb, and in so doing, yes, I was giving Fb a license to use those small images for commercial purposes.

    But I retain the CC BY-NC-SA licence on the larger, higher resolution Flickr versions, and (IMHO – IANAL etc!) I’ve given neither Fb nor anyone else that right for those separate resources.

    If Fb or another commercial agency comes and asks me (unlikely, as I said above), I might still grant it to them.

  4. Paul Walk said

    For what it’s worth: I try to pick the license for my own blog which allows the greatest potential for distributing the ‘conversations’ I try to engender there, without just throwing it all into the public domain. I’ve settled on ‘cc-by-sa’- I did consider leaving out the ‘sa’ as Pete suggests, but I’m interested in how syndication and ‘sa’ are working out and my blog, like most, is increasingly syndicated.


  5. Commercial re-use or not?

    An interesting question relating to open content from Brian Kelly:

    But should I be taking a more liberal approach, I wonder? Should I permit commercial exploitation of the content? This, after all, has been the approach taken in the open source world,…

  6. I dislike both the “non-commercial” and the “sharealike” parts, because they raise more questions than they do provide answers. If a University provides a course internally which uses that content, for staff, is that non-commercial? If a company provides an internal course that uses that content, is that non-commercial? If another University hears of this great course and pays for some of its staff to visit the other University to go on the course, is that non-commercial? Its these types of questions that people end up asking, and it causes nothing but pointless grief.

    Same goes with the ShareALike idea – if someone uses your content on 1/2 a slide out of a 50 slide course, what do they have to provide back in the CC license? The whole slide pack, the slide it was on, that 1/2 a slide? Its more pointless grief, in my opinion.

    This is one of the reasons I seriously dislike the GPL over a number of other open source licenses which are a lot more clean as to what you can do with content/code, and don’t try to slip in confusing clauses which are mainly aimed at spreading its reach virally.

    I’m not sure if a CC license is useful on things like slides and blogs you put up on the internet, as people can take that information and reword it or rejig graphics, and you put it up there for individuals to learn from. Its not quite the same as data like OS mapping data which cannot be easily changed and it only useful in the form it exists it.

  7. Mark, it is quite simple. If people are making money using the content, it is commercial (unless, of course, they are a non-profit). Certainly, some grey exists but it is not enough to be a show-stopper.

    I use a non-commercial sharealike license. I let NGOs and non profit organizations use my works, but commercial entities have to pay or go away. As the license holder, I use my discretion. I would suggest others do the same instead of praying that a license will handle all possible applications.

  8. Chris Rusbridge said

    Peter Murray Rust seems to be a strong advocate for open implying un-constrained, including commercial use, and quotes the BBB definition of open. This is particularly in the context of data. See for example.

    The DCC uses the same licence you have been using. Part of our reasoning is that the non-commercial clause does not totally rule out commercial use. However to use it commercially you would have to contact us

  9. […] interesting question relating to open content from Brian […]

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