Commercial Rights Reserved

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This is an active proposal for the treatment of the NonCommercial licenses, as of November 2012. It is still just a proposal and may not ultimately reflect the decision of Creative Commons.

One proposal still being considered for the NonCommercial licenses is renaming it to "Commercial Rights Reserved". This proposal was brought up already 2008 on the community list [1] and further discussed in detail on the license list early this year[2].

The proposal is for a simple renaming of the "NonCommercial" license element, without any change in the definition of what it covers. However, despite its limited scope, it has several possible benefits.

A criticism of the NC licenses is that many licensors choose them without understanding exactly what the license element means—and because of this, the license may be used by many more licensors than would otherwise want its conditions. Renaming it to something that more accurately reflects the operation of the license may ensure that it is not unintentionally used by licensors who intend something different.

What's wrong with "NonCommercial"?

NonCommercial seems like a simple description, but it is open to many possible misunderstandings. The NonCommercial licenses are frequently more difficult to explain to potential licensors—in part because people already have ideas about what "non-commercial" means, which don't always line up exactly with what the license does.

Some licensors choose NC for the sole reason that they have no intention of using their own work commercially. They don't intend on ever selling or profiting from their work, and haven't thought about the impact of their choice beyond that. These individual choices wouldn't be too unfortunate if not for the broader effects on the commons: many don't realize that choosing an NC license also means their work becomes incompatible with a huge body of work under licenses such as Attribution-ShareAlike, and prevents many uses that licensors might have wanted to allow.

Many people also misunderstand "NonCommercial" to be a statement of intent that no one may ever make a commercial use of the work, which isn't true. First of all, the licensors themselves may choose to release under other licenses, and many do. (In fact, many licensors choose NonCommercial so that they may also charge fees to users who want different license terms.) Secondly, even under an NC license, companies and other generally commercial organizations might still use the work for noncommercial purposes. Finally, under any CC license, fair use, fair dealing, and other limitations on copyright are still applicable—so parodies, quotations, simply using the ideas contained in a work, and other uses that don't require a license are unaffected by the choice of a NonCommercial license.

What's so great about "Commercial Rights Reserved"?

"Commercial Rights Reserved" seems a little harder to understand—but it's also harder to misunderstand. It's a more mechanical description of what the license does, without too many other related ideas associated with it confusing the matter. (When you use a NonCommercial license, you are saying that you the licensor reserve the right to make money from the work for yourself, but you're giving most of the other rights away.) The phrase sounds a little bit awkward and lawyerish, and you have to think about it a bit longer before deciding to use it—but that lack of instant appeal may be a positive thing.

There are a lot of passionately-held ideas around what "commercial" culture is. "NonCommercial" sounds like a rejection of a lot of the ideas that people find most frustrating about the current default full-copyright culture, and that initial appeal is difficult to get beyond when you want to explain the actual practical effect of using the license. And for licensors who are more commercially-minded themselves, "NonCommercial" has a different set of associations—as though using a "NonCommercial" license means that it stifles competition and protects the interests they do have in a way that the more open licenses wouldn't, which is not always correct on further examination.

"Commercial Rights Reserved" also parallels the well-known phrase "all rights reserved", which makes it easier to think about what the license does in comparison to the default operation of copyright.

Changing the name this way would change the focus from a statement about what the license isn't to a statement about what it is: negative to positive. Some people think this is more straightforward. The rename would also place the focus more on the position of the licensor, which is the important part of the operation of the NC licenses, rather than on the work. When a licensor chooses this license, commercial rights are reserved to the licensor. The licensor gets a monopoly on commercial uses of the work by reserving the right to sell it, collect royalties on it, and get advertising revenue from it. The work itself may or may not be "NonCommercial", depending on whether the licensor has chosen to exercise those rights.

And finally, this name would help to answer a common question: how do you make money from NC works? By licensing the reserved rights separately. Dual-licensing is often confusing, especially when a work is licensed under both an NC license and another license (from CC or otherwise) that allows for commercial use, or that is only available for purchase. Licensors haven't taken the work out of the commercial sphere entirely by using this license—they are simply saying that those rights are not released, and if you want them, you must make a separate arrangement. (Of course, some NC licensors are not open to any such arrangement. But many are.) Those who want to be paid for their work may even like a name suggesting that commercial rights may be available for the right price.

What's terrible about it? And what would happen if CC renamed the license?

That's where your feedback comes in! But we've heard some arguments already, as well as come up with some of our own. Here are some, but comments and additional considerations are welcome on the Discussion page and on the mailing lists.

Probably, there would be some confusion about what the difference was between "NC" and "CRR". We'd try to address it with messaging and really easily findable help pages, but it's pretty much inevitable that some people would be completely befuddled. That is, even more so than they already are.

It would require a lot of communication and messaging around the new name so that people understood what it was and what the (non-)difference was between CRR and NC. NonCommercial has a lot of mindshare: people have heard of it, they know about it, they have at least a vague idea what it is, while the phrase "Commercial Rights Reserved" is nowhere near as familiar. It could confuse both people who are new to CC and people who are already users of the NC licenses.

Many existing materials (and URLs) refer to "NonCommercial", and it would take a lot of effort to go through and change these materials to reflect the new name.

It's possible that even after huge efforts toward rebranding and remessaging, nothing useful would happen: people would keep on using the licenses exactly as before, with the exact same misunderstandings. The NC name is also stuck in people's minds: it's possible that people would continue to use that name even if the license chooser didn't use it. Additionally, many platforms do not update their own license options, and new works would continue to be released under licenses using the old name, continuing to send mixed messages. It's also possible that some users would be so confused by the switch and what it meant that they would just abandon CC licensing altogether!

Some people also think that the icon would no longer make sense with the new name, and CC would have to find another one, which would have its own recognition and messaging problems.

Is there a deadline? Why?

We intend to have a final decision on the naming of the license before the final publication of the 4.0 licenses, around the end of 2012.

A rename wouldn't affect the actual license text itself[3], but we think it would be confusing to launch version 4.0 of the NC licenses with one name and then change its name in the future; it is much easier for people to understand what has happened if we were to rename when the license is versioned. In order to do that, then, we have to have a decision in advance so that FAQs and other messaging can be written to explain the change.

Don't a lot of these arguments hold for NoDerivatives also?

Yes, to some extent. ND has never attracted anywhere near as much attention as NC, though, and the misunderstandings around it don't tend to have as much impact, so we're only considering NC for renaming right now.

So what are you asking?

The CC staff can sit in a tiny room and debate a name change, but it would be foolish to make a change that's supposed to do something useful for public messaging without consulting the CC community. So here are two questions to focus the discussion:

  1. What arguments for or against should we be thinking of that aren't included here?
  2. Is the name change a good idea or a bad idea? Why?


  1. Terry Hancock, [1]: "But the principle reason for having such a limitation is that the work itself IS "commercial" and that the author of the work wants to "retain commercial rights" in the work. In other words, the name of the license is user-rights centric, but the choice of license is author-rights centric. Thus, from the author's point of view, the name creates confusion, and that probably means that errors are made in selecting a license. Since the "non-commercial license" is really the "license of choice for commercial authors", this is indeed ironic. One solution might be to rename the license -- it could be called "commercial-rights-reserved" (CR), for example."
  2. Gregor Hagedorn, [2]: "to avoid the "positive feeling" of the NC phrase. In my experience many who have no commercial interest choose the NC license because they believe it is the more valuable commons, the one that they would like to see. They are not aware of the practical differences between non-commercial and non-profit or charity work."
  3. (Well, kind of. It would affect the definition of "license elements", which currently refers to "NonCommercial". But that's it.)