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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 And there is nothing stopping anyone from mirroring Wikipedia too (except out of date dumps, cough).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.

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

23 December, 2007 • , ,

Comment [3]

Bits & bobs/is shared vision more important than a specific license?

Heather Ford recently posted an update on iCommons which led to a Declaration on Open Education. She made this comment:

The fact that the first, great draft of the ‘Cape Town Open Education Declaration’ has already been circulated, the fact that its impact was not ‘watered down’ by this “dispute” [about NC or not NC], and the fact that this group has recognised that standing together in our shared vision of what education should look like in the future is more important than the (important but less important) differences of opinion about copyright licences. This is a conclusion that I had long ago but didn’t know how to express: this movement has very little to do with copyright and everything to do with people; it has very little to do with being free to share content and everything to do with sharing perspectives and fellowship.

Hmmm. I don’t know how to feel about this. I would like to be convinced on this point. But currently each time I see some cool new project launched under CC-BY-NC my heart sinks a little. I don’t see a way around the conclusion that the Creative Commons NC clause especially creates a divide among content that maybe could have been avoided. If CC educated people more about how damaging a NC clause can be. If CC helped let individuals see their place in a long and evolved tradition of free culture. Maybe if CC didn’t offer it at all in the first place….

And when I read about someone who wants to release a ‘free software library’ under BY-ND terms I really think, someone missed the boat here… how did we let that happen?

23 October, 2007 • , , , ,

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News and notes from Creative Commons land

CC-BY Flickr user foolstopzanet' Ian Wilson
© CC-BY Flickr’s Ian Wilson – another ad from the campaign.

Virgin Australia has been hit with a lawsuit for its use of a photograph from Flickr in an ad campaign. The girl in the photo is underage and her-friend-the-photographer naturally didn’t get any kind of model release before licensing the photo CC-BY on Flickr.

Lawrence Lessig has a copy of the lawsuit on his blog which explains why Creative Commons has been named as a party in the lawsuit. It basically amounts to “they didn’t explicitly warn me something like this could happen”.

My thoughts are that I’m glad Virgin is being sued over this. They were jerks to use this photo in the first place. I understand that stupid multinational corporations can use works I license under CC licenses, but I’m happy they’re being pulled into line. I think CC being named in the suit is just misguided, but maybe it won’t hurt for the licenses to be tested in court. :) Is a URL without a username sufficient attribution?

Second thought. This confirms my belief that conscientious photographers should avoid CC licensing photographs of people. I would never CC license a photo of my friends. Famous people are fair game.

Third thought. I hope this inspires CC users to read up what they’re actually agreeing to. Like something interesting I discovered: the version 1.0 licenses have this clause:

By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor’s knowledge after reasonable inquiry:

1. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;

2. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.

Hm, well that makes all my CC-BY-SA-1.0 releases invalid, because I sure as hell never checked those things. And I sure as hell don’t intend to. Happily, CC seems to agree that those things don’t in fact belong in copyright licenses.

On the cc-community mailing list, there has been a killer thread about what “NC” (non-commercial, as in “this photo can be used for non-commercial purposes”) means (entitled “What does NC means?”). Many people are confused about this, and CC doesn’t seem in any rush to clear up the confusion. They seem happy with the poorly defined but vaguely comforting terms. Terry Hancock writes eloquently here about how NC and ND licenses betray the tradition that the “commons” part of the Creative Commons name lays claim to.

There seem to be plenty of people within CC culture who are pissed about this, but CC doesn’t seem willing to act to even encourage people towards freer license terms. They emphasise the clarity of “choice” to the individual licensor at the expense of benefit to the commons they purport to help create. It is kinda annoying.

I am starting to think we need a http://www.NCandNDarenotfree.org/ with arguments and polite form letters that people can send to probably-misguided NC and ND license users. Especially people who set site-wide licenses, like wiki administrators: these people need a clip around the ear if they choose a NC or ND license. Well, first they need a persuasive argument, then if they persist, the clip. It could be like GNU’s campaign to end Word attachments, Although they appear to have lost the war, but small individual battles are won each day.

And the last mention must go to the recent iCommons iHeritage event, celebrating South African Heritage day. They were uploading media to Wikimedia Commons and Flickr. There is probably still a bit to go as they were recording audio as well. I helped out a bit by creating some help files on Wikimedia Commons.

I’m sure there is much more content on Flickr. I can’t really blame anyone who chose to upload there instead of Commons. I suppose the good thing is our Flickr transfer service making copying them over nice and easy. :)

24 September, 2007 • , , , , , ,

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