cc.logo_.circle_thumb[1] Nina Paley has a guest column on TechDirt in which she talks about a major branding problem that Creative Commons has: when people see “Creative Commons” they immediately assume “noncommercial”.

This has caused Paley problems because she made the decision to release her movie Sita Sings the Blues under one of the less common CC licenses, Attribution-ShareAlike. In other words, people can make any use of it they want to, including commercial uses, as long as they release their remix under the selfsame Attribution-ShareAlike license. (Paley isn’t even really happy about the ShareAlike restriction, but sees it as the least objectionable way to keep derivative works just as freely usable as the original—assuming people pay attention to the license.)

However, people keep releasing remixes under Non-Commercial licenses, and bloggers and journalists discussing her work always referring to it as being licensed for non-commercial purposes even when they get the name of the license right. She tried correcting these misapprehensions for a while, but there were just too many of them.

Paley thinks “it would be nice” if the Creative Commons organization did something more to differentiate between the different licenses, such as rebranding ShareAlike licenses as “CC-PRO”.

It would also be nice if everyone, including and especially representatives of Creative Commons, referred to their licenses by their names, instead of just "Creative Commons." "Thank you for using a Creative Commons license," they tell me. You’re welcome; I would thank you for calling it a ShareAlike license. Almost every journalist refers to all 7 licenses as simply "Creative Commons licenses." And so in the popular imagination, my ShareAlike license is no different from a Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives license.

This is the problem, Paley points out, that led to the recent CBC ban of all CC-licensed music for use in its podcasts (which I discussed here). Because the Creative Commons organization doesn’t do enough to distinguish its licenses from each other, the perception is that if it’s “Creative Commons,” it must surely be non-commercial.

As Paley notes, the Creative Commons license is great for people who want to release their works with no commercial exploitation allowed (without their permission), but it’s not so great for people who don’t want to reserve those rights—and who want their works to be free to receive wider exposure even on commercial broadcasts—because everyone will assume the rights are reserved anyway. Though the examples I’ve covered here are films and music, this is a problem faced by anyone releasing any form of media under Creative Commons licenses—including e-books.

Perhaps, as Paley suggests, it might be time to foment a new license, under a different name, that is specifically meant to permit commercial uses. It seems unlikely that Creative Commons license differentiation is going to become any easier for the average person, or for people who just don’t care enough to bother making the distinction.


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail