Last year I participated in a survey followed up by a focus group on the topic of Noncommercial Use, in particular around the context that about 2/3rds of the Creative Commons licenses extant use the NC attribute, such as in CC-BY-NC.
Defining “Noncommercial”: A Study of how the Online Population Understands “Noncommercial” Use
The topic is somewhat of a sticky one, as there are many competing interests. There are content creators who wish to profit from their work, there are other content creators who don’t want anyone to profit (even themselves), and of course there are content creators who want everything to be free provided you share free content back.
There also is not agreement on what noncommerical means. There are some clearly commercial uses, but there are also various type advertising and sponsorship and use by non-profit or education institutions where money changes hands (such as a card at a museum gift shop). Finally, there is use in news or criticism where users feel that they are not restricted due to the rules of fair-use.
I’m not sure that there is anything definitely “new” in this report, but there is some consensus and some interesting facts:
- The vast majority (73%) of creators define “commercial use” as a use where money is made, 76% of content users agreed.
- 33% of content users thought that individual use was noncommercial use, whereas only 19% of the content creators believed so.
- Content creators rate uses by individuals as being less commercial (89%) – unless the user is a professional who earns money (35%)
- 13% of content users thought that fun, enjoyment, entertainment and artistic use was noncommercial use, whereas only 3% of content creators believed so.
- 52% of the content creators don’t believe that content users understand the noncommercial provision, and 43% believe that content users don’t respect the term.
- 50% of the content creators have been contacted about licensing their noncommercial content, 24% of the content creators have attempted to contact another creator about appropriate use of a CC license.
- There is a lack of agreement on a lot of edge cases of noncommercial use. For instance, some feel cost-recovery is acceptable noncommercial use, money exchanged hands for a charitable use would be noncommercial, or use by a for-profit company where no money changed hands would still be noncommercial.
- There is some interesting analysis of what people might be willing to change their mind about. For instance, before focus group participation only 8% thought that use for charitable purposes for social good would be noncommercial, but after the focus group 17% did.
All in all an excellent report, with lots of good data in it for further investigation. If you are involved in user-generated content, offer users creative-commons licenses, or are a consumer or provider of commercial content online, I recommend you take the time to understand these issues more deeply.
My personal take on this report is that the noncommercial provisions of the CC license need more clarification and there needs to be more user education. In addition I feel that Creative Commons also needs to look at the commercial use side of the problem. I appreciate the recent efforts toward a CC Plus metadata, but it isn’t enough.
For instance Creative Commons should take a principled stand on what exactly “fair use” is; make it easier for those who offer NC licenses to also offer a standard commercial license for common uses; and possibly creating a standard for what “fair rights” are in commercial license (i.e. fair to both the content creator and the content user).
There are also problems in the area of attribution, as all Creative Commons licenses except Public Domain have the BY provision. These get particularly difficult when you have a remix of content from many creators. There’s also difficulty in the fact that it’s not stated what places attribution must be listed in. For instance, can you do a movie or a podcast with remixed content, but have the attribution credits be a link? Or must they be credits in the media itself?
All are interesting problems that I hope Creative Commons will address in the future.
Life With Alacrity
© Christopher Allen