What is non-commercial use? Creative Commons survey

Creative Commons is running a study on what "non-commercial" means to different people -- creators, remixers, corporations, webmasters, and so on. Many of us give out our works under Creative Commons "non-commercial" licenses (I do!), but there's a lot of disagreement about where the boundary between commercial and non-commercial lies. Your contribution to the survey will help Creative Commons refine this border and come up with something that we can all point to when a disagreement arises.
As previously announced, Creative Commons is studying how people understand the term “noncommercial use”. At this stage of research, we are reaching out to the Creative Commons community and to anyone else interested in public copyright licenses – would you please take a few minutes to participate in our study by responding to this questionnaire? Your response will be anonymous – we won’t collect any personal information that could reveal your identity.

Because we want to reach as many people as possible, this is an open access poll, meaning the survey is open to anyone who chooses to respond. We hope you will help us publicize the poll by reposting this announcement and forwarding this link to others you think might be interested. The questionnaire will remain online through December 7 or until we are overwhelmed with responses – so please let us hear from you soon!

Non-Commercial study questionnaire


  1. #2 has it, pretty much, but the questions in the survey forced me into considering it in more detail and refining the definition a bit more.

    All I can add is that I certainly DO NOT envy the folks who will have to sort through the survey answers!

  2. Tomas, are you certain that anybody will sort through the answers in the survey. It seems to have an decidedly American slant; also slanted mainly towards the legal profession. Who would actually need a law defining commercial and non-commercial use?
    A bad survey serving no purpose not even in what Adams called a country of law.

  3. I previously worked on a museum group website and now work on a university website and I always check with the copyright owner that they’re happy to consider us as non-commercial. No-one’s disagreed yet but I could imagine someone taking issue with it one day.

  4. Hmm, i can think of a problem with ‘make money off it indirectly’

    Extreme example follows :
    You can mention an online pic to someone you know who asks you to email them a link & they decide they like your judgement on fun & interesting stuff, so they subscribe to your blog which has pay-per-view ads

    Perhaps some sort of ‘intent to make money’ would be required?


  5. Survey is far too long for a casual user to fill in, with much to much manual entering of values. Also, when it asks you if you’d like to amend your definition at the end, you’re presented with a blank box with no way to consult your original definition. I abandoned it at that point, as I didn’t want to rewrite my lengthy definition, just alter it.

  6. >”You making money off of it, either directly or indirectly?” “Yeah” “That’s commercial.”

    So … if one were to do something for fun, utilizing non-commercial CC licensed material and LATER that nets you some business – a comission to do something similar but not using the CCed material? That’s indirect.

    Further, how could you prove that the composition wasn’t there solely to tout for business under the guise of doing it for fun?

    If you make your living doing something – say video – and yet also do video (genuinely) for fun – that inevitably has your name attached somehow, how do you determine that the fun material is not a commercial for your business?

  7. This questonnaire has some sly questions in it. I frequently felt it set out to expand and blur the gray areas it ostensibly seeks to define and refine.

    It frequently treats “who” and “how” as the same thing, for example, offering little opportunity for nuance short of choosing the “Don’t Know/Can’t say” option. It asked whether commerciality inheres from things that have nothing to do with it, like educational, governmental, or vaguely “objectionable” purposes in general.

    In another question, the survey lumps in two very different scenarios as the same thing: (a) having ads on the same website, and (b) “connecting” ads to viewing content, a la countdown interstitials that pop up before you can view a page.

    If detailed distintions matter, ask about detailed distinctions, not generalities:

    “Is it Ok to use noncommercial content on a webpage that also has ads on it?”

    “Is it OK to use noncommercial content on a webpage that requires a paid subscription to view it?”

    “Is it OK to use noncommercial content on a webpage that cannot be accessed without viewing ads beforehand?”

    And so on. These are the kind of real-world questions whose resolved answers will actually help us determine how to put CC content to use (or not!)

  8. Oddly enough, I have a case example of this sort of murky CC usage.

    I make knives as a hobby. I have a camcorder that I discovered had a feature where it would take a one-frame-per-second fast-motion video, so I set up a camera and recorded the processs start-to-finish.

    I’m still editing it, but I’d like to toss a creative commons or other “free” music track behind it so it’s not just a slient movie. However, I do occasionally sell my work, and one hope is that this might, if I ever go pro, assist in promoting myself. Right now, though, it’s just a hobby, and I’m certainly spending much more on toys^H^H^H^H tools and materials than I’m taking in. (hey, hydraulic forging presses aren’t cheap, and neither is high-end stainless steel stock.)

    So, is that “non-commercial?”

  9. Tried taking survey, but got bogged down in the spaces where it asks you to define numerically things that aren’t definable numerically. It got annoying.

    And a lot of the time it was far too nonspecific, yet too specific.

    Really the best part is how one defines a commercial use vs, non- commercial. Which is basically: Money- seeking= commercial. Not Money- seeking= non- commercial.

    So, #8- it’s probably a commercial use. Having said that, you aren’t going to be required to break your bank to use someone’s music, it comes down to negotiations, really.

    I’ll use an example. In the early 90’s, George Clinton offered the following in his albums I’ll paraphrase: “Ask for sample clearance and you’ll get it in exchange for a percentage of profits” Literally meaning no profits for you = no money sent to George. In this way a clearly commercial use is still not going to lose non- profit or low profit entity their shirt.

  10. @#10 Blackanvil:

    Sounds like a non-commercial use to me.

    1) Your vid sounds like more of a “this is how” type of thing than a “OOO AWESOME BUY MY KNIVES” thing. If you give the vid away, ESPECIALLY if you CC-license the vid, it’s still a noncommercial use. (Especially if cast and offered as an educational work more than an advertisement.)

    If I’m getting the wrong impression, and your vid is indeed the “OOO AWESOME BUY MY KNIVES” kind, you’re definitely hitting a commercial use.

    2) If/when you move your operation from a hobby to a business, you can always make a new vid to cut a real advertisement sort of vid.

  11. Unfortunately, when people use the “non-commercial” provision of CC, it makes their work completely ineligible for use in Wikimedia Commons. Murky definitions have caused many problems there, as most people just don’t want another person profiting from their work, yet wouldn’t be offended by it’s use at Wikimedia Commons. They are then often surprised that Commons does not accept NC provisions, but it isn’t compatible with free content. NC is actually well defined, but many people never think past their own personal definition.

    “The key problems with -NC licenses are as follows:

    * 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 and beneficial 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.”

  12. One thing to remember though is that, with your own work, you still own the right.

    There’s nothing to stop you – as the creator – offering specific rights to other people. The wikimedia example you can, if they wanted and so did you, offer extended rights to them.

    The CC works like copyright in that YOU own the rights. You can change you CC option at any time – to increase, decrease or remove entirely the CC licence.

  13. ‘CC non-commercial’ is a category which really doesn’t address the bulk of potential users of the photograph.

    99.9% of blogs may have none or some ad rev, might even make $1000-$2000 a year, but don’t come close to covering minimum wage for the blogger’s time.

    I consider these sites, including mine, appropriately non-profits and not commercial, which is why I use photos under this license on my site without concern.

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