Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Do we need Creative Commons licenses?

Gordon Haff has posted an interesting essay on what’s wrong with Creative Commons licenses and how to fix them. He takes issue with CC definitions of “noncommercial” and the focus of the group’s licenses on the type of use, rather than the type of user. He sums up by arguing that a clarified noncommercial CC license isn’t necessary.

I’d argue that if Noncommercial is defined to read “not associated with making money,” you’re effectively prohibiting the vast bulk of uses that aren’t already covered under Fair Use (use in academic environment), are trivial (I make a print to hang on my wall at home), or both. Sure, you can have such a license, but why bother? Some personal blogs and MySpace pages might gain access to some photos under such a license but it’s a pretty small slice of the possible uses. If you truly don’t want anyone to (legally) profit from your photographs however indirectly, there’s a simple option: Don’t release them under Creative Commons.

While Haff makes some good points about the need to clarify the language in CC licenses, I think he misses the point in some other ways. He points out that “One justification for having a Noncommercial [license] is that you don’t want your photos used in some big advertising campaign or in a company’s annual report without compensation,” and then makes a convincing case that this type of use is already covered by regular copyright. However, as I understand CC, the point is sanctioning noncommercial uses, which appears to be a gray area in traditional copyrights, not preventing commercial ones. Here’s how Haff sums up his piece:

Creative Commons licensing offers up a complicated set of options that seem calculated to encourage people to contribute works to the commons while not pushing their envelope to allow any uses with which they’re uncomfortable. While an understandable approach, it creates a system that’s far too complicated and doesn’t, in my opinion, have any real benefit beyond a simple license that requires attribution and which requires downstream derivatives to maintain the same license.


Gordon said...

I could perhaps have worded it better. What I was trying to say was that the point of the Noncommercial license is to sanction noncommercial uses (whatever those are exactly) without sanctioning commercial ones. You're correct that the license is about enabling uses that would otherwise be prohibited under copyright law--as opposed to forbidding additional uses. The end result is functionally the same but I wasn't as precise as I could have been.

John Jones said...

Thanks for the clarification. I think I might have given your point about the commercial uses short shrift, as well. I agree with you that the whole system needs some rethinking.