Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 21 seconds

CC-BY-NC – why I am pro “non-commercial Creative Commons licensing”

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 21 seconds

We recently had our open access event at the American University in Cairo, followed by a visit by Melanie Dulong from CNRS, who spoke about open data. In an informal discussion afterwards, we discussed the problems with a CC-BY-NC license. For people unfamiliar with the abbreviation, this means “Creative Commons, Attribution, Non-Commercial” (with no restrictions about derivatives or sharing alike). This also reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a professor of mind about open source. It also reminded me of a private conversation about academic books

My computer science professor was saying that teaching students to use open source was risky because if they ever later wanted to sell a product made using open source components, they would face litigation. I am not aware of details of how open source licenses work, but I assume there must be some sort of option for “share alike” and “non-commercial”, which also means there might be space for not insisting on “non-commercial” or “share alike”, in which case people would be free to use some open source components in something and later sell it (I think the ethics of this are murky and depend on how much of the components are open source, and how essential those components are to the final product – very murky).

However, I should think that working with open source should, in theory at least, encourage people to continue to create open source outputs, and to try to make money in different ways other than selling the software, such as selling support (as Moodle does), or training, or such. Would love to hear what others think.

Now, the conversation with Melanie went as follows. Some things (open data) are made with a “non-commercial” license, but then a university (a non-profit that fits the non-commercial description) wants to use the data, but their project is partly funded by a commercial entity. Where would that leave them?

My response there was as follows:
1. There is a difference between using something open access for another thing that involves commercial funding (ok with me), and using that open data for something that will be sold commercially (not ok with me, see below)
2. If all of us creating open access stuff allowed all others to make money out of using it, this could potentially mean profit-making organizations can lay back, stop making their own research, use data created by others, then use it to make profit (without paying the original data creators).

Now there’s something so wrong about that picture, right?

But hold on – that is exactly what commercial academic journals do!

They have authors, peer reviewers, who are academics funded possibly by non-profit universities, do all the hard work (or most of it, anyway) of doing research, writing it up, assessing its quality, and then the journal steps in and does some final polishing up (I hear this is substantial in some of the sciences, but it really isn’t in the social sciences) – and claim all the money for selling the article!

I recently invited someone to contribute to a book I am potentially editing. He is a big advocate of open access and said: they either make my work open access, or they pay me.

Man, that’s such an inspiring stance to take, especially if you are tenure-track (which I am not, but I think this person is)

Now… Thinking about all of the above, I checked out some of my favorite open access folks to check which licenses they used:

Hybrid Pedagogy has a CC-BY-NC license (yay!)

OCTEL (MOOC I am currently taking) is under CC-BY. Does that mean someone could possibly take the entire work, attribute it, and sell it as a book without giving any money to the authors? Is that really ok?

Blendkit2014 another MOOC I am taking has its material as CC-BY-SA. Does this mean that anyone re-using and remixing their material has to share “alike” in exact same license, BY-NC-SA? Or just some kind of open? I think the former, right? Which is why the “SA” license can be tricky.

So does this mean it is not ok for OCTEL to remix Blendkit’s content, or at least, when they do, to share that part as license, BY-NC-SA? (Yes, according to the license)

I also find the whole attribution thing for CC confusing, but Mike Caulfield tried to explain it here, but still confused.

I also understand the need for CC license to allow people to re-use stuff with attribution but without author permission (helps things move along faster) but have noticed lots of ppl on Flickr post stuff as CC but request courtesy of letting them know if you’ll re-use. Yes, it’s a hassle. But I totally get it – if someone’s gonna re-publish my article, I’d like to know (we’ve been through this one before). Incidentally,I couldn’t see the copyright/CC status of Mike’s blog đŸ™‚ hidden somewhere? Same for Jim Groom‘s blog. Martin Weller’s is like mine (or to be more modest, mine is like his): CC-BY-NC-SA

I think SA (Share Alike) is a form of advocacy but I can see how it restricts reuse for some purposes. Still, it’s my favorite license. I should probably research this debate some more…

8 thoughts on “CC-BY-NC – why I am pro “non-commercial Creative Commons licensing”

  1. David Mathew says:

    You wrote: “I recently invited someone to contribute to a book I am potentially editing. He is a big advocate of open access and said: they either make my work open access, or they pay me.”

    I wonder if you could ask him to write about this stance for the Journal of Pedagogic Development. It sounds interesting… and its links to pedagogy, though merely implied at this point, could be fascinating. Maybe you could put us in touch or act as an intermediary.

    1. Maha Bali says:

      Will do, David, brilliant idea

  2. I’m taking another course on Canvas – Digital Literacies II and we were covering Creative Commons. We had to watch a webinar you might find it useful for the SA portion (or not…it’s a good resource for someone just learning about CC-BY-NC-SA). The course ties in well with #BlendKit2014 and teaches you HOW to use a variety of tools… It is to “How You” as BlendKit is to “Why You”…

  3. jaapsoft2 says:

    Hi Maha, you write <>
    That is OK for author as well as readers, because the open work remains open. Nobody needs to buy the book to do the course, the course still is open and anybody else could also make a book of it and try to sell it. (some open source software does also exist as commercial software. But CC is not a license used for software!)
    The authors did CC their work and did not want any money, that is not changed. If they do want money they should not CC_BY it but keep it copyrighted and closed.
    on is links to discussions on the subject. (

    1. Maha Bali says:

      hi Jaap – thanks for this (I should not have conflated open source with CC – I do know they’re different; just that the open source people always refer to their system when others talk about open access in general – I should look into differences) – but I just wanted to let you know I’m not sure which part of my blogpost you’re responding to because when you said “Maha, you write <>” there is no text there… Wondering what you were responding to?

      1. jaapsoft2 says:

        I commented on ” OCTEL (MOOC I am currently taking) is under CC-BY. Does that mean someone could possibly take the entire work, attribute it, and sell it as a book without giving any money to the authors? Is that really ok?”
        These hooks do enclose my text and hide the text (is HTML I guess)

  4. Commenting on the Open Source licensing, in fact the NC part of CC license is not existent in Open Source license, since it is against the Open Source definition. Additionally, the ND part is not there either in the Open Source License. Nevertheless, the SA part is there, and it is what differentiates the two main families of Open Source licenses.

    I am thinking out loud now. I can see that due to the nature of software, the fact of enforcing others to release any modifications to your code under the same license, i.e. SA, makes it harder for others to use your code for commercial use. It is not ruling out commercial use though, but it just makes it less feasible.

    Here is a list of some Open Source license, with some summaries

    1. Maha Bali says:

      Thanks for that, Tarek

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: