Google Blogoscoped

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Creative Commons Report on "How the Online Population Understands Noncommercial Use"

The Creative Commons organization conducted a survey to find out what people understand to be a "noncommercial" environment, because there's a continued discussion about just which contexts are allowed to use content tagged with a CC Noncommercial license (note the study was conducted with a focus on US users). My understanding as content creator releasing stuff under a CC NC license was always that it's OK to include it in e.g. a blog even if that blog shows some advertisements, but that it would not be OK to e.g. directly sell my CC NC content. In regards to this issue...

... On a scale of 1-100 where 1 is "definitely noncommercial" and 100 is "definitely commercial" creators and users (84.6 and 82.6, respectively) both rate uses in connection with online advertising generally as "commercial." However, more specific use cases revealed that many interpretations are fact-specific. For example, creators and users gave the specific use case "not-for-profit organization uses work on its site, organization makes enough money from ads to cover hosting costs" ratings of 59.2 and 71.7, respectively.

I find the measurement of "covering hosting costs" to be a bit blurry. (For instance, when this blog started out the ads were not covering the hosting costs. Later, they were. Then, the revenues were above the costs. Added confusion comes from the fact that I'm hosting multiple sites on the same server.) But perhaps the key to look at then is whether the site is not-for-profit, or for-profit.

The CC organization continues to wrap up the findings, saying that...

... Finally, both groups rate "personal or private" use as noncommercial, though creators did so less strongly than users (24.3 and 16.0, respectively, on the same scale).

I'm not sure exactly what "personal" use means. Would a personal blog (written by one person) fall in this category, or would it fall outside because the blog is public?

+ Expand report*

As usual it continues to be safer to not include CC NC content on ad-driven sites, to avoid gray areas. Admittedly, to avoid gray areas it's also always safer to not make "fair use" of copyrighted content, but that would mean voluntarily greatly limiting your rights. It's safer to not include such CC content despite interpretations from e.g. CC founder Lawrence Lessig himself – quote from a post here from last year:

Is it allowed to show e.g. a CC-licensed photo on a webpage which also includes ads to the side if the image uses the "non-commercial" clause? (...)

I've asked the Wikipedia mailing list a while ago, and recently received another confirmation from Creative Commons’ Lawrence Lessig: yes, the CC organization believes this being OK is the best reading of the license. Not that they’re saying you're allowed to directly sell the CC content or anything, but you’re allowed to display ads if you use CC-NC content. But it’s also a matter of how you display ads, Lawrence disclaims, saying that there could be certain advertising schemes that take it too far.

From the perspective of a content creator, to me a CC NC license that would not allow others to include my stuff in their blogs (if the blogs shows some ads) is slightly useless – I want to allow this, I know it may be the #1 use case. And a blog presenting my sketch or so as part of an article would after all not directly make money from that pic, it would just be to spice up the article. For me using just the CC license (without NC) on the other hand would also open up use cases I may not want at the moment... like "Click Here to buy the CD-ROM including all Blogoscoped posts for just $20 via PayPal...". So, right now, I don't really know which license to ideally pick (and creating a mixed license is a bit of a headache).

One thing is worth keeping in mind: beyond the CC license, there's still fair use, which CC does not aim to, and cannot legally, suppress. In other words, your use may be fair – whether (c) or (cc), and even on an ad-driven blog – if certain (gray area!) criteria are met.

[Thanks Mike!]


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