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What does non-commercial mean?

Slashdot has an interesting discussion of a question I’ve often wondered about: What does non-commercial mean in a Creative Commons license? If your blog runs some ads, does that mean you can’t use a photo CC-ed for non-commercial use? CC-friendly BoingBoing is the possible offender in this case.

BoingBoing has removed the image to respect the author’s wishes, and has posted a brief notice acknowledging ambiguity about “non-commercial.” I think that’s the right way to handle it. But I’d love more clarity about this. I’d be fine with commercial entities using a photo I CC’ed, so long as they weren’t directly making money from it, because I think the culture of sharing is improved with that policy. But, it is a knottier problem than it would be if CC were more explicit about what the intended norms were for commercial use.

[Later that day:] Xeni Jardin of BoingBoing responded to my tweeting of the Slashdot discussion with three tweets:

Slashdot post is fake. Did you know the photographer is a flickr friend of @doctorow’s and namechecks him in the photo?

the post by the slashdot anonymous troll is NOT by the proprietor of the image. But by a troll.

They’re trolling because the very post was written by Cory, a longtime CC activist, & post said “I’m going offline for a month”

Thanks, Xeni

4 Responses to “What does non-commercial mean?”

  1. That’s a question that comes up a whole heck of a lot. Last year Creative Commons did a study assessing perceptions of what “noncommercial” means. Not sure if it will lead to more clarity, but it does flesh out the discussion:

  2. If anybody can answer that question, Lessig should be able.

  3. I agree, it would be nice to get some real clarity on the meaning of ‘non-commercial’ re-use. I also agree with the sentiment that there is a difference between direct and indirect commercial re-use – I don’t think the current CC licenses accommodate that. An amateur blogger making a few dollars from google ads is also very different from a professional publishing venture running the same ads, but I’m not sure how you define that in an easy to understand CC license, particularly as Google themselves are a large, commercial enterprise (although, they do also provide a lot back to the Internet commons).

  4. I think noncommercial stipulations should be avoided completely. If you aren’t marketing the part of the use that makes someone else money, you don’t deserve to claim you should be making money. If you want information sharing culture to be preserved, you shouldn’t be restricting information sharing to prevent restrictions on information sharing (I’m talking to you, GNUddites.)

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