A Second Layer for Commercial Use of Creative Commons Content?

Update: In her comment, Nicole pointed me to CCPlus, which seems to solve most of the problems laid out in this post. Thanks!

An open question: Would it make sense to add a layer of licensing (or rather: meta-licensing) to Creative Commons that would allow easier (speak: quicker) use of CC-licensed content for commercial use?

As this may seem kind of odd out of context (particular coming from a person who’s very much against overhead of any kind usually), please allow me to explain what I mean, and an example. What I’m talking about here is the commercial use of content licensed under the non-commercial license. (Yes, that’s right. Stay with me, I’ll explain.)

Also, please note that this is an absolutely open question, I am not sure myself which side I stand on here. If you know any pros or cons, please share.

Image by Flickr user PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0 On the right, Berlin Congress Center (BCC) where Web 2.0 Expo Europe 08 took place, and where we briefly discussed the issue after a Creative Commons presentation. Image by PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0.


The problem: Professionals can’t use CC non-commercial content

A lot of content that is licensed under CC is under the non-commercial clause, i.e. it’s allowed to use it for personal or other non-commercial uses, but not to make any money off of it.

How much content is released under CC non-commercial and how much under CC attribution (that allows for commercial use) I couldn’t find any info about, but a quick Flickr search for “Berlin” turned up these results: CC-licensed images: 2,153,590; out of those allowed for commercial use: 85,662.

(By the way, it’s not always easy to determine what’s non-commercial use, but that’s being discussed.)

So as a first step that’s good for all involved as more people can use those contents as long as they do so for personal or non-profit reasons. However, part of the charm of Creative Commons is that it allows amateurs as well as professionals to get more exposure while retaining some control over their contents and at the same time contributing to an ever-growing pool of accessible content that’s available for cultural production of all sorts. (Which is way cool, by the way.)

More exposure, to get to an example, could be having your photo printed in a newspaper.

The example: A journalist would like to use a CC-licensed photo

A journalist would like to use a photo licensed under CC. He favors free culture, but more importantly it’s much cheaper than running a photo from the wire and choice is much bigger. But the image is licensed under CC non-commercial, so the journalist needs to get the photographer’s permission to use it legally.

And here’s the problem – working under a tight deadline, it’s basically impossible to wait for the photographer’s consent.

The photographer, though, might love to see his photo in the newspaper. She wouldn’t mind making a few bucks with it, but it’s not her primary motivation to put the photo up. She just put it under the “non-commercial” license so that she’d get some control over who used it commercially. (She’d rather not have a large multi-national corporation run it on their ads.)

So what was intended to protect her photo from abuse turned against both her intentions and against the journalist.

Would another opt-in commercial layer help?

Maybe – just maybe! – another lay of meta-licensing would help. The option to say: I allow non-commercial use of my works for anyone. But I also wouldn’t mind commercial use as long as I can veto it in case the wrong folks want to use it. (“The wrong folks” here, of course, just meaning anyone the creator doesn’t want to be associated with.)

Creative Commons isn’t primarily about commercial success, but it sure helps the cause of CC to encourage commercial use. (The CC Casestudies Project collects CC success stories, also commercial ones.)

So how could this look like? Very naively, I imagine it implemented as a tickbox: Yes, in theory I allow commercial use of this photo, but only after I get notified first. As soon as someone wants to use it and clicks the corresponding button, please do send me a text message/email/whatever alert. This is a channel that I can guarantee to check with top priority, so that if I don’t veto the action within 30 minutes I agree to this photos use.

Of course there’s plenty of loose ends here and aspects not thought through to the end, and there’s plenty of arguments against this model. (Simplicity for one, and a more fundamental push for more open sharing.)

So the question is: Would this make sense for Flickr & Co to implement, and what speaks for and against it?


I like your idea. If I get you right, it is similar to CCPlus. This is not a new license but a standard CC license PLUS an extra agreement. If you, for example, apply an NC license to your work, you can let your users know that you would allow commercial uses under certain conditions as well. Flickr does not use CCPlus by now, but some music platforms like Jamendo or Magnatune seem to be quite happy with it.