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I remember seeing this article on the Stoa suggesting that –NC was a bad thing for Creative Commons and stifled the use of photos. I remember thinking to have a look, but never got round to it. Now I’ve sat down and read through the whole thing.

I’ll be honest I don’t understand Creative Commons. I realise it’s a way of licencing material without losing all rights to it, but when I’m given an array of modifiers, –BY, –SA, -ND and so on I just went for what I thought was the safest option. It’s always easier to turn a no into a yes than the other way round. My photos, where possible, have been licenced as BY/NC/SA. All the licences have the attribution clause, so BY is a no-brainer.

SA is share-alike. I could have chosen ND, no derivatives, but that seemed needlessly restrictive. I could forsee that people might want to re-use the photos by adding labels or highlighting features. I also chose NC for non-Commercial. The reason for this was that I didn’t want someone to lift my work and sell it for profit. It’s not likely, but it’s the principle.

Erik Möller has four points why this NC clause is a bad idea.

  • They make your work incompatible with a growing body of free content, even if you do want to allow derivative works or combinations.
  • They may rule out other basic uses which you want to allow.
  • They support current, near-infinite copyright terms.
  • They are unlikely to increase the potential profit from your work, and a share-alike license serves the goal to protect your work from exploitation equally well.

Not all of these objections move me.

They make your work incompatible with a growing body of free content, even if you do want to allow derivative works or combinations.
That’s a shame, but I can live with that. I’ve often no burning desire to see my work widely disseminated. For instance if somebody else’s photo of Olympia is used instead of mine, then it’s no great loss. A lot of academics might well want to keep control over where their work appears. For instance one friend had her work lifted and reproduced on the web with the wrong illustrations. The goals free of cost and freedom of use are two different things. If you consider your work a piece of art then you can be understandably protective of it.

They support current, near-infinite copyright terms.
Again this is a question of whether or not you feel this is a problem. Most people are consumers rather than producers. If your work relies on the sale of copyrighted material, freelance journalism springs to mind, then copyright might be essential. I did think that near-infinite was hyperbolae, but every time that damn mouse is about to be released into the wild copyright gets extended. There’s something that offends about a copyright law that gets modified to benefit copyright owners rather than the artists whose work keeps getting withheld from the public domain. Surely Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t need more royalties? Yet if I were a benefactor I might well say that the copyright should be an inheritance like physical property is.

They may rule out other basic uses which you want to allow.
This is the argument that ultimately persuaded me there was a problem with –NC. Why release something under a CC licence rather than copyright? I’m happy for people to reuse my photos. I don’t even really object to someone making a profit with their help – if they’re producing something that’s value-added. For instance if someone were to produce a CD-ROM guide to Sicily I’ve no objection to them using my photos as illustrations. I’m not losing out by their use and they’re producing something useful. I’ve been contacted by magazines and a Polish travel agency about the use of photos. They’re all commercial, but I’ve made them photos available at no charge because they weren’t exploitative uses, which brings me to the final point.

They are unlikely to increase the potential profit from your work, and a share-alike license serves the goal to protect your work from exploitation equally well.
The only thing that would really bother me would be something like if someone trawled the web and made a simple stock photo site who made a profit from reselling mine and other people’s photos. Möller has an answer:

The moment you choose any Creative Commons license, you choose to give away your work. Any market built around content which is available for free must either rely on goodwill or ignorance.

The potential to benefit financially from mere distribution is therefore quite small. Where it exists due to a predominance of old media, it is likely to disappear rapidly. The people who are likely to be hurt by an -NC license are not large corporations, but small publications like weblogs, advertising-funded radio stations, or local newspapers.

Once again I have to ask why am I releasing something as CC? If I want to make a profit from something then I can leave under ©opyright. CC is a way to release material for public use without being exploited or uncredited. I could get miffed if someone sold something that was purely my work re-hashed, but as Möller notes –SA does protect against that. Even if you lift a photo to use at CaféPress under –SA I can ask for the edited version of the photo and then open my own store. I’m not even against commercial use if I’m asked. So long as there’s a credit I’m usually happy to do so.

I think CC isn’t simply a lite version of copyright. It involves thinking about the use of material in a different way to copyright. I’m not ruling out hold copyright on some material I produce. I’m in favour for lifelong copyright for creators for artistic reasons rather than commercial reasons. I can even see that a limited post-mortem right has sound commercial reasons, though I balk at the necessity for seventy years. I don’t think you have to choose to be in one camp or another, there’s much to be said for picking and choosing what rights go with what output. In the case of the photos I put up on Flickr, they’re there because I find them useful. If someone else can use them, so much the better.

The photos I can licence will be moved to a BY-SA licence, as and when I get round to it. I think I’ve done the UK and Sicily albums. The thought of changing over the 100+ Hadrian’s Wall photos gives me a pain, so they may take longer.