In 2012, a group of German copyright experts released in collaboration with Wikimedia the German document “Folgen, Risiken und Nebenwirkungen der Bedingung Nicht-Kommerziell – NC” (Consequences, Risks, and side-effects of the license module Non-Commercial – NC). In this document, they explain all consequences of choosing a CC license variant restricted to non- commercial use only (NC) and make clear why its usage is often not necessary and even a bad idea for artists and institutions.

The public licenses developed by Creative Commons (CC) are tools to make creative works available for free use under certain conditions. As rights holders have different needs and motives, CC offers six different license variants. Some of the most popular license variants include the condition that the licensed works must not be used commercially. This has far-reaching and often unintended consequences for the dissemination of the respective works and sometimes even entirely thwarts what the licensor wants to achieve by choosing a CC license.
This brochure wants to offer information on consequences, risks and side-effects of the restrictive CC license variants that don‘t allow commercial use

As often discussed on the OKFN blog, the Creative Commons NC-license can not be considered a true open license as it is not mutually compatible with for example, material with a CC Attribution-Sharealike (BY-SA) license.

After reading this document which was published under a cc-by license we decided that it was worth it to create an English version as well. We put out a request to the German OKFN volunteers and got a couple of responses. Within a few days the complete document was translated. Then, the original authors were consulted and they agreed to proofread the document. This was also a great opportunity to implement some of the comments they received from the German Wikimedia community after publishing. With the help of Wikimedia Deutschland, we were able to fit the document in the same design as the original.

And now in early 2013, we are very happy to announce the final version of the document translated to English.

Download “Consequences, Risks, and side-effects of the license module Non-Commercial – NC” here.

Again we want to thank the OKFN community so much for achieving this great publication. Special thanks goes out to Thomas Hirsch who translated the majority of the document.

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Joris is community coordinator cultural heritage at the Europeana Foundation and coordinates the OpenGLAM working group.

12 thoughts on “Consequences, risks and side-effects of the license module “non-commercial use only””

    1. Dmytri, I know quite a few examples of artists and creators who make a decent living while CC-releasing their work (or reproductions of it). They do so because of the quality of their work, because there is a demand for it, and because they are justly remunerated for the creation and presentation of it.

      Are you claiming that asking money for reproduction of your work online is still a feasible business model nowadays? Or that it has ever been, for that matter?

      Are you claiming that it is the obligation of CC to gather money for creators?

  1. Wondering if I should make a picture that says “Open Knowledge Foundation” with the word INTOLERANT or SELLING OUT SCHOLARSHIP overlaid over this? This would be an argument of equal merit to your picture of an NC license with the word CLOSED overlaid. By INTOLERANT, I mean unwilling to accept the ideas and license choices of others. By SELLING OUT SCHOLARSHIP, I mean that OKF’s insistence that all scholarship should give away their works for anyone to sell is just that – a sellout, for OKF’s own purposes.

    1. Heather, I do believe people can choose closed licenses, like those with the non-commertial restriction. I think this is not an intolerant view. I defend even the freedom of people to choose a license where all rights are reserved, although I personally prefer and recommend one where all rights are reversed.

    2. When you release a work under a free license, it does not mean that you can’t earn money with it anymore. Any decent commercial publisher will remunerate you. Vice versa, any indecent publisher will fail to remunerate you, even if you release your work under traditional copyright. Welcome to the internet!

      OKFN serves the public interest, in the sense that it quite objectively highlights which licenses are most open and will provide most room for re-use in various contexts. Concrete example: images released under CC-BY-SA licenses can be used on Wikimedia Commons and can be placed in Wikipedia pages; images under CC-BY-SA-NC licenses can not. Another concrete example: museums are allowed to do much more with CC-BY-SA reproductions and representations of artworks in their collections than with unlicensed or CC-BY-SA-NC reproductions and representations.

      That being said, you are of course absolutely free to use any license you want; I hope you are aware of why you make such a decision and what the consequences are.

    3. @Heather: scholarship that is restricted has only one single ethical purpose: to assure funding. The other effects of restriction are unethical. So it is a simple question of whether the funding achieved by restriction is enough to justify the other side-effects. In the case of comparing NC vs SA licenses, it is completely questionable whether NC even achieves better funding! This is not a zero-sum game. If you are able to do something to get funding, my ability to use your work within my own commercial project does not necessarily reduce your funding. If I were to simply not use your work otherwise, that does you no good. More to the point: an NC license stops me from mixing your work with plain SA content even if I’m 100% non-commercial. Your comments aren’t addressing any of these real issues, they just seem reactionary.

  2. Hi, just thought later. It would be great to have access to the source of this PDF.

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