Non-commercial clauses in Creative Commons licences tend to be a controversial subject in open licensing circles. Creative Commons has released a sizeable and comprehensive report on the non-commercial definition that answers everything you ever wanted to know about NC. Still, a good number of people in the open camp insist that non-commercial use is not free (in the “freedom” sense of course), and therefore recommend all other licences that do not have non-commercial elements. For example, Freedom Defined analyses several licences to determine if they comply with the definition of free use.

Despite the strong ethical prescriptive messages propagated by the community towards using licences that allow commercial use, non-commercial licences are still quite popular, but not as much as they used to be. Back in 2006, just under 2/3 of all CC licences contained a non-commercial element. An analysis of 100 million Flickr images earlier this year also produced large numbers of works released with non-commercial restrictions, with an astounding 75% containing such elements. However, just checking Friday’s data, NC licences barely accounted for 1/3 of all of overall licence usage, with Attribution (BY) and Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) making up the bulk of usage.


Click to enlarge

This could be a statistical blip, or it may have to do with the fact that Wikipedia decided to adopt Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike in all of its content earlier in the year, with a large number of images released under Attribution only.

Despite this, there is still a considerable amount of content released under non-commercial licences. Although I understand the arguments made by non-commercial detractors, I remain convinced that non-commercial licences work well in a large number of situations. Just recently I had an interesting experience about the advantages of using non-commercial clauses. I was recently contacted by Schmap, a company that takes Flickr images from cities around the world and adds them to their maps and websites. Because these maps are commercial uses, it would not be possible from Schmap to use my images, as they are released under CC-BY-NC-SA. However, they sent an email asking for permission to use the pictures, and I agreed.

Bikes in Amsterdam

Bikes in Amsterdam

By using NC clauses, I have been able to allow commercial use of the image, but I also have been made aware that somebody is using it. With relatively minimal effort on both parts, everyone is happy. This is not to dismiss those who prefer free licences however, there is certainly a lot of value in not imposing any restrictions on reuse other than attribution and copyleft clauses.



greglas · November 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

When I make commercial use, I usually check to confirm that the photographer took the image in question and understands what a CC-BY license entails. It might slow down the process, but I think it is the best practice, given the potential for serious confusion about copyright.


Mike Linksvayer · November 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Interesting! I'll check whether the data you've cited is a blip.

Potentially confusing typo — your photos are BY-NC-SA, not BY-SA.


    Andres · November 29, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Thanks Mike, I was indeed very surprised by the data as it goes against the trend that we have been seeing for the last four years.

    I hope that I did not have an Excel malfunction, but I'm pretty sure I tabulated the data well.

    And thanks for the heads up about the typo, it's fixed now.


Andres · November 29, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Good advice Greg, it's always nice to ask even when commercial use is allowed.

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