There is an ongoing debate about the opportunity to drop the -NC (non commercial) and -ND (non derivative) clauses from creative commons licenses. In particular, it started by opinions spread by OKFN, now resumed into a nice document and considered by the CC community. The main point is that ND and NC are clauses that Balkanize the open contents panorama and split it in contents that are more or less open and incompatible with each other. Actually,some think NC are simply not free licenses. I will add 2 cents to this discussion.
First of all, a part of the document tries to convince people that NC is not a way to stop unwanted usage of your works. I believe that limiting the moral area of usage allowed for derived works is not in the spirit of anybody willing to create commons. As extreme as it can be, if a nazi-fascist group takes the contents of this blog and re-uses it I will not try to stop them, even if I hate their actions. So, if you think that NC will prevent a bad company from using your work, this is not the case. If they’re correct, they will ask your permission, else they will use it and challenge you to stop them. And this goes to the ND clause, which I consider pointless for 99% of the times and I could happily live without. If you want you content to be open, do not try to limit the way it is used by other people for moral or ethic reasons.
But NC is needed for reasons that are not ethic, but simply practical. People use it when they want to make some money out of what they do, and this has always been one of the engines of creativity. Commercial models were born out of NC licenses, such as Jamendo or Beatpick (successful or not, this is not the point) which contribute to spread good music to the people’s ears and produce some revenue for the artists. I strongly believe this model is going to be more successful in the future, if the entrepreneurs are able to make it flourish. It may be that NC today is over-used because people miss-understand its meaning or they believe they may get some money when in practice they will never get it, but dropping the whole clause is a way to hinder the growth of a more respectful copyright market. This might not be the specific goal of creative commons, but I believe it is a side-effect that should not be eliminated.
About the definition of openness, the level of freedom applicable to a content is subjective. Supporters of open source believe that GPL licenses are too restrictive, it is a position I don’t share but I understand their point and I’m happy that they have their own set of licenses to use. When you take BSD code, develop it and relicense it with GPL you are preventing the original authors to move it back to their work, and they don’t like it. This is the same as if you take CC-BY content and move it to CC-BY-SA, the original ecosystem will not benefit from your modifications. We do not accept NC but we tend accept the viral clause (with SA, or GPL) which is still a freedom limitation incompatible with CC-BY since we believe that this clause has, in the past, proved to be effective in both spreading knowledge and in supporting the growth (also inevitably economic) of free software. But I believe that software and other creative works have different characteristics. The lifetime of a software may be infinite, software has a specific purpose, software can generally be “improved” in monotonic way (that is, always leveraging its quality), software without a price generates many related activities that can be economically valuable (assistance, documentation, customization…). Do creative contents share those characteristics? I think they don’t:
- Music, texts, videos etc.. have a shorter lifetime, their market value drops dramatically after a few months. This is because the market is wicked, but also because their production is huge and they loose freshness with time
- they are hard to “improve”, apart from text, the technical skills needed to “modify” a song, a video or even a picture are not comparable with software at all. You need a band, an instrument, a singer, an actor … Not only, there is no way of defining an “improved” piece of art. It is just another one, so that with time a successful project is not a project that grows with a community, but more likely a project that is copied or forked many times.
- they do generate side activities (teaching, performing…) but they may not deal with the main activity of the author, or with the piece of art itself. If I’m a programmer and you ask me a patch, It’s my job to do it and it will improve the software, but if I’m a music composer and you ask me a masterclass, I may just be a really bad teacher. And if you ask me a new composition, does it make sense to pay for a BY-SA work? it makes sense with software since the customization of a software can not be independent by the original project, and if the original project is GPL even the first author may not relicense the whole source code (if he has received patches and contribution). But why should a film producer ask a composer to do another composition (or a derivative one) keeping the original license?
All these is to say that software is not like other creative works. There even are some evidences of this, the first one is a recent paper that analyzed the quality of remixed works in a large community of artistic production. Their findings is that in general, users of that community tend to rate remixed works with lower marks than the original ones (yes, cooperation is hard). The second is the obvious observation that in 2001, that is, ten years after the introduction of GPLv2 (twelve after v1) almost 30% of the servers in the world were using Linux. Do we have any hint suggesting that CC contents will reach such a high diffusion today, after 10 years of CC? No, there are good examples (yes, Wikipedia) but still the use we do of art is so different from software that the fact of being SA doesn’t let a wealthy (even economically) community to develop easily. Summing up, without the NC clause, free software produced a great free ecosystem, but you can’t simply expect this to happen with any other piece of art.
Still, I see a possible way-out, that simply goes back to the beginning of the initial fight against copyright reforms. Why don’t we let CC-NC licenses have a limited temporal validity? Even if the law gives to the author his life+70 years of copyright, can we limit this time span exactly as we limited the rights of the author with “some rights reserved”? I believe that most authors that are worried about their potential income know that if they do not monetize their work in the first years it will be much harder in later times. So, why not to create license images that say: “published 2012, CC-BY-NC-SA for 2 years, CC-BY-SA later on”. This will have three effects, it will discourage people to use NC for “ethical” reasons, it will let authors try to gain money from their content for a certain time frame and, after that frame it will make those contents compatible with other CC licenses.
Last minute edit: the time-based licenses have been used also from the municipality of Florence, when we convinced the Major to switch to CC for their web contents (and also in this blog for what it matters 🙂 )