Multi-lateral Licensing: CC = Community-Centric

Autumn Acer

Following up on a conversation on Twitter recently, Stephen O'Grady has a useful defence of Redmonk's practice of licensing their copyrights initially under a Creative Commons Attribution/Non-Commercial/Share-Alike license (CC-BY-NC-SA) and then downgrading to CC-BY-SA after sixty days. A number of people commented they thought that the "NC" clause wasn't sufficiently defined and was therefore useless. I posted a comment there and thought I should expand it a little, so...

The problem here is similar to the one people have understanding open source licenses. We have got very used to the role of a license as being to define the parameters for a bilateral relationship. But as Eben Moglen has pointed out, open source licenses are more about defining the context of shared values for a community, and when we see them that way choices become much easier. For example, for me, choosing the license for the Java platform was fairly easy once I realised the primary goal was to open up the GNU/Linux world for Java developers.

CC licenses are not so much about defining exact terms for a bilateral relationship as defining the bounds of a multi-lateral relationship, a sharing community. They can still define bilateral relationships, and well enough that many people find it easy to understand them only in terms of playing that role. But as I tweeted at the time of the original conversation, the CC license is there to tell you when you have to go ask for rights as much as it is there to give you rights.

So the non-commercial clause has massive value, because it tells your community the point at which they need to go ask for rights. Stephen has some fantastic examples of it working in practice that I'll not repeat here (I share the Schmap experience). The NC clause is part of a scheme of multi-lateral licensing. As soon as it's not clear rights are available, go ask - people who use CC licenses are usually delighted to help and almost always prefer to make things work than to get legalistic. But to understand Creative Commons, I suggest reading that "CC" as "community-centric".

Comments:

Hi Simon,

As you've pointed out right here in this space, participants in communities do so not out of altruism, but because their personal or corporate interests are aligned. The copyright owner has a big say over how others' interests will align with their copyrighted work, and the way the owner says it is through the license. The whole license discussion is so heated precisely because the license controls who can make money from a work, and how. That licensing determines the type of community you get is a side-effect of this. CC is no different.

Licenses certainly determine the nature of sharing communities, but thats not their primary purpose - its a side effect of determining how people and companies can satisfy their own agendas through use of a copyrighted work.

Posted by Rich Sands on December 08, 2008 at 07:55 PM PST #

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