That Blurry Line Between Commercial & Non-Commercial Use Still Troubling For Creative Commons

from the is-this-commercial-use? dept

First off, I should say that I respect what the folks over at Creative Commons are doing, and think they really do have the best interests of content creators and the public at heart in their plans -- but I've always been a bit uneasy with the whole setup of Creative Commons -- some of which I expressed last year in discussing the difficulty in distinguishing commercial from non-commercial use, as is necessary in many CC licenses. As I wrote at the time:
But it's this blurring of "personal" and "work" lives that again has me pondering if there really is a meaningful distinction between "commercial use" and "non-commercial use." Some of this debate first came about years ago, when some web publishers claimed that their RSS feeds were "for non-commercial use only," but what does that mean? If I read your site as part of my job, have I violated that rule? If I learn information from your feed that allows me to make money, have I violated that rule? More recently, there have been proposals to separate copyright violations, such that "non-commercial use" is allowed. But, again, you quickly run into very questionable scenarios. If my personal blog has Google AdSense on it, is it commercial use? If I end up getting a job because of my "personal use" of your content, does it suddenly morph into "commercial use"? The questions get more and more confusing, and the mess would make less and less sense.
It seems that Danny Sullivan has come across the same issue, and is taking both Flickr and Creative Commons to task for the ambiguity in their licenses which is so confusing that even those who are using CC licenses don't seem to totally agree with what their own licenses say. He details a variety of stories, where it's simply not clear at all what is really allowed under the CC license being used. If a commercial blog uses and attributes a photo that has a "non-commercial use" only license, is that infringing? Or is that "non-commercial use" only limited to not selling the image. But some might argue that you were "selling ads off of the image." It all gets quite blurry fast.

To their credit, the folks at Creative Commons have been working hard on trying to deal with the ambiguity (and part of the reason for the original post I linked to at the beginning of this story was a survey they were taking on this very subject). But it's quite clear that there's still an awful lot of ambiguity that isn't really helped by the phrase "non-commercial use."
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Filed Under: commercial use, copyright, creative commons, non-commercial use

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  1. identicon
    Kay Lee, 25 Jan 2013 @ 6:37am


    Mine is more of a question than a comment. I have seen, what I believe are companies/stores that are "dodging" the rules a bit by following "the letter" if not the "spirit" of cc and such. Someone correct me if I've misunderstood.

    Recently, I was in a tourist shop on the beach and I saw some material that I KNOW to be "protected".. Curious to how they were getting away with it, but not wanting to cause the owner to become defensive and toss me out (It's a pretty cool little store and I like hanging out and seeing all that they have to offer), I asked if I would get in trouble for BUYING such a shirt with an image.. didn't let on that I knew much about cc and such. The proprietor told me that what he does is.. he sells the t-shirts as blanks... and if the customer so chooses, they can pick a "FREE" image to have put onto the shirt. Thus making it a case of where he doesn't sell (or profit from) the image itself.

    Is that "legal"?

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