Who's afraid of commercial use?

The big bad wolf? (Public domain)

When it comes to free-content-ish licensing, the prospect of allowing commercial use seems to be a sheep in wolf’s clothing. It sounds bad, and one can easily dream up horrible what-if exploitation scenarios, but there’s no evidence that those scenarios have any basis in reality.

The scary scenario generally sounds like this: But what if $XYZ_LARGE_CORP takes my content and publishes it and makes a squillion dollars, and I don’t get anything? That wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Indeed that’s a possibility, but how many times has it ever happened?

Look at Wikipedia, one of the most popular websites on the web in every country around the world. If there was a way to make megabucks from it, don’t you think someone would have done so by now?

Another example is Flickr. They let their users use Creative Commons licensing and that has undoubtedly been an element of their success, but I would argue that Flickr could have had the same success without using CC at all. (CC would probably be a lot worse off though. Flickr is the highest-visibility use of CC licensing I think.) Flickr did a lot of things right, and CC licensing was only one of them. Their success seems more due to being in the right place at the right time, having an easy-to-use website, and then providing easy ways to embed Flickr content in other applications. But their RSS feeds, for example, include all-rights-reserved images, so not using CC would not have restricted that.

There is nothing, of course, stopping anyone downloading all the CC-licensed images from Flickr and creating a Flickr-fork. And there is nothing stopping anyone from mirroring Wikipedia too (except out of date dumps, cough). But so far it doesn’t seem like anyone’s going to bother. And why is that? —Because if you can access the original, why would anyone use a second-rate copy?

The original has the community that created the content, and they usually have some technical advantage. If they avoid pissing off their community and can keep far enough ahead of the tech curve, it should be true that any major fork will fail to gain enough traction to do any significant damage.

The right to fork that is created by free content licensing keeps the parent organisations honest.


Good on Citizendium for dealing themselves back in the game by choosing a CC-BY-SA license. Zealotry rules. ;)

23 December, 2007 • , ,



You should add your feed to <a href=“http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Planet_Wikimedia”>Planet Wikimedia</a>.

David Gerard · 24. December 2007, 04:32


And, of course, to add a “no HTML” warning to your comment box. Gah! I’m sure it didn’t look like that in preview … possibly am on crack.

David Gerard · 24. December 2007, 04:35


Indeed you are on crack… this uses Textile markup. :)

pfctdayelise · 24. December 2007, 09:32

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