Why NC is (not?) evil in se

Recently I had this discussion with Drew Roberts and Rob Myers about the NC creative commons flag.
You can find the CC BY-NC-SA license here

Why people (shouldn’t) use NC

  • They think they might get more money out of their project, which in most cases is not true. (eg. Sita sings the blues)
  • The permission culture looks attractive, but it only restricts fans to do what they like. This is a freedom-violation.
  • A more problematic point of view: when you use NC to ensure only you can make money with it, you’re technically creating a monopoly on what you created. You certainly have the right to do so, yet I think, like in each case of a monopoly, this leads to bad products, and mad customers for any of your commercial attempts.

More reasons not to use NC you can find here

Why it isn’t that bad after all

You may want to protect your art against capitalistic influences if you’re a fan of «l’art pour l’art». I think the freedom to choose whether your art should never be used for profit equals the freedom to choose whether your art should be shared alike or not, if that involves you don’t use it for commercial purposes yourself.

Simplified version of how I see these licenses. Blue: culture Red: software

This being said I think the NC is a very dubious way of being good for free culture. You still keep the right to use your work in bad ways, … and who says your heirs think alike?

Better alternative?
A better alternative, and still free enough in my opinion, would a NP-flag: no profit. To ensure the artist’s purpose is not to create a monopoly, the NP-flag should automatically drop the moment the artist uses it for profit.

– Pieter
Follow me on identi.ca: @pietercolpaert



  1. drew Roberts

    For me, it is basically for the same reason I would not be messing with promoting software that tried to forbid commercial use. It is not Free (according to http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html ) nor is it Open (according to http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd ).

    People can and do put NC licenses on their work. (Others put all rights reserved on theirs.) I am not going to spend my precious time and attention on those works when I prefer to find and promote the art of people doing the Free thing. And the people committed to doing the Free thing.

    I don’t think you will find wide agreement among open source people that by-nc-sa or by-nc is an open license. (Except perhaps among the folks trying the open core plays.)





    for some of my thoughts on those plays.

    all the best,


  2. Mike Linksvayer

    In http://identi.ca/conversation/18124816#notice-18124816 linking to this post you say “I’m confused by the hatred against #NC”.

    My guess is very negative feelings about NC are due to:

    * NC clearly dilutes the identity of the free [as in freedom as defined by free software] culture (or whatever you want to call it) movement — one can see themselves as participating without offering all freedoms demanded by free software (note that there’s also a high level of vitriol directed at not-quite or problematic free software projects, eg mono)

    * NC may dilute the effectiveness of the free culture movement, assuming the desire is to maximize free-as-in-freedom culture — some people who would’ve used a free license instead use NC. There’s a counter-argument that most who use NC would not at present use a free license and maybe using a public license at all, even a restrictive one, may be the bridge some need to eventually use free licenses. The former seems more plausible to me, but I’d love to see experimental and empirical research to back this up. However, another counter-argument would say that the goal is not to maximize free-as-in-freedom culture, but to provide a less harmful alternative to the much larger copyright maximalist culture, and eventually influence policy, both purposes for which it is imaginable (but highly debatable) that more people using altenative instruments (ie public licenses) is more important than the specifics of those instruments.

    Personally I strongly favor free licenses (ie non-NC, but also non-ND) but don’t think the case that the existence of NC licenses is overall bad is closed and do think that promoting free works is much more effective than denigrating uses of NC (though I’d love to have this tested, maybe in a lab experiment).

    If you’re really enjoying thinking about such things 🙂 I’d recommend also checking out
    * http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Defining_Noncommercial
    * http://p2pfoundation.net/Free_Culture_in_Relation_to_Software_Freedom

    Disclaimers: I had a hand in the first. I wrote the 2nd. I presently work for Creative Commons but don’t represent them in this comment.

  3. openuniverse

    i really don’t approach the nc clause for cultural works (it’s completely inappropriate for software) as a purist, i will “settle for” using nc works (though i’d love to avoid them.) it’s not just about the free culture movement, (which i admire) per se, but also about preserving culture.

    i believe we can better preserve culture without restrictions and that we- and artists- deserve and should be able to contribute to a healthy public domain. nc is a step farther from that reality, so yes that’s not great.

    but also nc adds (unnecessary) roadblocks to cultural preservation and (in the absence of fair use, such as in canada) commentary, that are not mere trifles. i would much prefer a non-profit archive for example, but i don’t necessarily think we should only allow non-profit archives.

    i feel there’s a practical side for everyone, of allowing commercial use, as the gpl would for software- but convention says “no, that’s crazy…” it’s crazy for cultural works but not for software? i argue it’s not, for either.

    • pietercolpaert

      I really like your idea considering the ‘non profit’ (NP) flag. This is exactly what I intended to use NC for. It does not have the ambiguity of NC, which I think should have been more clear in the first place.

      This idea should definitely reach creative commons. Have you told them yet?


  4. openuniverse

    oh, thanks, i didn’t intend for it to add to licensed proliferation though! i’d have to think about it before proposing the idea. i’m sure they’ve thought of it but certainly, feel free to propose your interpretation.

    creating new licenses is a necessary evil, but it is an evil. in the long run i think a sort of natural selection will sort it out, but in the short run proliferation hurts fair use protection- it mustn’t be taken lightly.

    i just looked through the defining nc study cc did, and i’m not sure it resolved much for me, only told me how incredibly unresolved it is.

    creative commons 4.0 comes out this year? and we await to see what happens to poor jamendo, a project of someone else’s that i dearly love. it is too early for me to guess how -np- would do. but i can tell you that it would all be so much easier, if we reduced the copyright term to 5-10 years. that’s a very good term for the second decade of the 21st century.

    • pietercolpaert

      That’s why I think creative commons should be aware NP is quite a nice alternative to consider.

      I added a small statement to your idea in the main post (scroll up): when the author/artist starts using its art for profit, then the NP flag drops automatically.

      CC BY-NP-SA, I like the idea a lot! Though I still would think BY-SA is better in most cases, just to be clear.


    • Mike Linksvayer

      CC 4.0 licenses definitely aren’t coming out this year. Discussion of 4.0 requirements may begin this year, more likely next, and I don’t expect the 4.0 licenses to be ready for use until 2014.

      More precisely defining NC would not necessarily help — “incredibly unresolved” may be a feature. Please read http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/17127#recommendations

      “NP” is extremely unlikely to happen due to the costs of proliferation. And unnecessary. As you (openuniverse) say in a comment above “i would much prefer a non-profit archive for example, but i don’t necessarily think we should only allow non-profit archives.” A license is not the only tool in the world. If one prefers non-profit archives, support and promote them.

  5. drew Roberts

    NP is a better idea than NC in my book when you have honest players. But look into how many hollywood movies do not earn a profit and I think you will see that NP likely has as many problems as NC in a practical sense.

    Perhaps a better approach would be to use BY-SA with a statement that anyone using it for a profit is forbidden from using your *Name* in conjunction with the work and a statement that you will not be willingly using your art for commercial purposes or a profit and that if the law forces you into allowing commercial use you will donate any proceeds to *X*.

    all the best,


    • pietercolpaert

      Quote: But look into how many Hollywood movies do not earn a profit and I think you will see that NP likely has as many problems as NC in a practical sense.

      Can you clarify this for me please? I do not understand what you mean by ‘in a practical sense’. If you mean not much people are going to license it in a NP way, you might be right. But for the few who don’t want their work to have capitalistic influences in any way, it is important it does exists.

      For now I’m convinced NC does not a great job on this matter and I would be very glad if NP existed.


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