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This page presented an issue for consideration in the CC license suite 4.0 versioning process. The discussions have now concluded with the publication of the 4.0 licenses, and the information on this page is now kept as an archive of previous discussions. The primary forum for issues relating to the 4.0 versioning process was the CC license discuss email list. You may subscribe to contribute to any continuing post-launch discussions, such as those surrounding compatibility and license translation. The wiki has been populated with links to relevant email threads from the mailing list where applicable, and other topics for discussion were raised in the 4.0/Sandbox. See the 4.0 page for more about the process.

The NonCommmercial (NC) term has for CC's entire history been more popular than ShareAlike and NoDerivatives, the other two optional terms in the CC license suite, though its popularity has slowly but steadily declined.[1] The term as it has appeared in all international versions thus far (1.0,[2] 2.0,[3] 2.5,[4] 3.0[5]):

You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.'

This is reflected on NC license deeds as:[6]

Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

Also in the CC license chooser, with the following question:[7]

Allow commercial uses of your work? ( ) Yes ( ) No

In addition to much use, the NC term has attracted much discussion and criticism on two grounds:

  1. uncertainty as to whether particular uses fall in the scope of the term (currently, digital file sharing is the only type of use explicitly stated to be noncommercial)
  2. works licensed using the term are not fully free/open and the attractiveness of the term, or of CC itself, could lead to under-use of fully open terms (i.e., CC0, CC BY, and CC BY-SA)

Several legal cases have involved works under CC licenses containing the NC term.

The popularity of the NC term, and debate around it, indicate that it is an important issue to examine rigorously, and get right (see the main 4.0 page for context of overall goals) -- which could mean changes in the 4.0 suite, changes outside the licenses themselves, or retaining the exact language used thus far.

Proposals for 4.0

For ease of reference on discussion lists, please do not alter proposal numbers.

NC Proposal No. 1: Clarify the definition of NonCommercial in the licenses to match wishes of most conservative NC licensors. (e.g., making it clear that use of a licensed work on an ad-supported website is commercial)

  • Pros:
  • Cons:
  • Other comments: See also Proposal No 5; a 2009 CC study found licensees tend to interpret NC conservatively.

NC Proposal No. 2: Narrow the definition of NonCommercial in the licenses to match wishes of most permissive NC licensors. (e.g., making it clear that use of a licensed work on an ad-supported website is non-commercial)

  • Pros:
  • Cons:
  • Other comments: Even if the definition of 'commercial' is not narrowed or broadened, there may be some need to clarify it given widespread confusion; a 2009 CC study found licensors tend to interpret NC liberally.

NC Proposal No. 3: Eliminate or re-brand the NC licenses at 4.0 so they do not use the Creative Commons name, or otherwise stand apart.

  • Pros:
  • Cons:
  • Other comments: The majority (albeit a diminishing majority) of CC works are NC-licensed

NC Proposal No. 4: Eliminate one or more (but not all) of the NC licenses from the 4.0 license suite.

  • BY-NC [Note: please visit the 4.0/Treatment of adaptations page to comment on this proposal.]
  • BY-NC-SA
    • Pros: BY-NC-SA and BY-SA are incompatible, creating two corralled reciprocal commons.
    • Cons:
    • Other comments:
  • BY-NC-ND
    • Pros:
    • Cons:
    • Other comments: The most conservative CC licence and potentially a 'stepping stone' to more liberal licences.

NC Proposal No. 5: Change the definition of NonCommercial in the licenses to match the wishes of the most conservative NC licensors. (e.g., deleting clause specifying that digital file sharing is a noncommercial use)

  • Pros:
  • Cons:
  • Other comments: I spun this off from Proposal No 1, because as far as I can tell the example went further than the proposal (the proposal was to clarify the NC definition to be conservative; the example is about deleting a pre-existing part of the NC definition)

NC Proposal No. 6: Explicitly state that NC licences are non-free, non-libre and non-open licences

  • Pros: Because 'free' and 'open' are publicly recognised terms with value, making it clear that NC works are not free and open will encourage the use of other licences.
  • Cons: The terms 'open content','open gaming' and 'open educational resources' have been used broadly to include NC content.
  • Other comments: A milder form of Proposal 3

NC Proposal No. 7: Replace/transform NonCommercial license with/to NonProfit-License

  • Pros:
  • Cons:

NC Proposal No. 8: Provide ways for users to clarify what questionable uses they are willing to allow

  • Pros: Removes the ambiguity of the NC license
  • Cons: Creates a splinted mess of potentially non-compatible sub-licenses.
  • Other comments: In educational use, I often want to have CC-NC licensed materials printed through print-on-demand companies. It is unclear whether this is commercial or not, since the printing company is certainly making a profit. It would be nice if the copyright holder could specify whether they allow cases like this.
  • Other comments: This may fall under the waiver options available to licensors and therefore be unnecessary. ("A licensor may always grant more permissions than are granted by our licenses. The 3.0 licenses specifically contemplate a waiver or consent as long as the waiver or consent is in writing and signed.") In the example above, adding some text about the waiver conditions next to the CC license should suffice.

NC Proposal No. 9: Create a new CC license, NC-EDU, that prohibits non-commercial uses, but allows educational uses.

This proposal is explained on the cc-licenses list in a post of Dec. 12, 2011 by Brian Carver. The proposed language defining the "educational use" exception is:

an exception for "...performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of teaching activities of an educational institution, in a classroom or similar place devoted to instruction or as part of instructional activities transmitted via digital networks..." Amendments and refinements are welcome.

The license-chooser would also be modified to ask "Permit educational uses?" as a follow-on option to those that select "NonCommercial."

  • Pros:
    • This does not make the license suite more confusing because many who choose "NonCommercial" do not intend to prevent the use of their work for these educational purposes, but rather wish to prohibit the direct sale of their work. The suggestion is that providing this option would allow those choosing an NC license to better express the intentions they've had all along, making the suite less confusing and a more accurate reflection of user intentions.
    • This is a better alternative to doing nothing because currently many individuals choose the NC option and that material is then unavailable, as a practical matter, for educational uses. Those that are inclined to choose NC will not typically choose merely BY or BY-SA, etc. However, they are not typically considering the negative impact on educational uses when they choose NC and would do otherwise if given the option. Every individual that then chose NC-EDU rather than merely NC would thereby increase the material easily re-usable in educational contexts and this would be a massively good thing.
  • Cons:
  • Other comments:

Please add other NC proposals here, and number them sequentially.

Related debate

We encourage you to sign up for the license discussion mailing list, where we will be debating this and other 4.0 proposals. HQ will provide links to related email threads from the license discussion mailing list here.

Relevant references

Please add citations that ought inform this 4.0 issue below.