The issue of Noncommercial

One of the attributes of Creative Commons licenses which is causing a lot of discussion is the Noncommercial, the ‘NC’ attribute. I understand the reasons why and have a simple solution.

Most musicians, including me, want to protect their work from commercial exploitation by others. I am not talking about file-sharing, but commercial usage in films for example.

The non-commercial attribute in a Creative Commons license is offering that protection. But some, for example Erik Möller who wrote this interesting article, feel that the NC-attribute is harmful to the open content culture we are living in.

One of the issues with Noncommercial is that no person on the planet seems to fully understand what commercial use is. We all have different opinions about it.

Some composers don’t like to see their material used on a weblogger-site with Google AdSense ads, while others don’t have a problem with it.

But I think we all will agree that when a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino uses our Noncommercial licensed song without asking for a special commercial-license, it is illegal and absolutely a serious no-no. Quentin needs to pay, right?

Musicians should be able to make a living when their compositions are loved and ‘used’. Giving your music away for free, which happens when using Creative Commons licenses, should not make you poor. One way of making money is to license your music for commercial use for special purposes, like television and film.

Okay, so we’re giving away our music, so it can be shared with others. But we don’t allow it to be used in films without asking us first. When used as background music on a website some don’t allow it, while others will. So we disagree on this.

You might suggest: ‘Why not always ask the musicians about it first?’ Indeed, that would work, but it might take a lot of time to ask for approval.

For example: an online label wants to create play-lists using Noncommercial licensed material. They are using advertisements to get a little money for the overhead-costs. So we want them to ask for permission? They need to contact every musician. What if this label is offering music of 200 musicians on their website? Maybe some musicians won’t agree to use their music because of the AdSense-banners, but getting those 200 musicians to agree is like a daytime-job. At least it would take a lot of time. But these AdSense-banners might generate a lot of money, enough maybe for this label to cover the cost and maybe even generate some extra cash; profit.

Some people believe that music can be treated as open content, like open source software. Well, open content and open source have one major thing in common which doesn’t exist in music: a piece of music is always a final work, a finished piece of art. With open source and open content this is not the case. is a brilliant idea to ‘freeze’ content based on a calender. If you check out their Wayback Machine you can see that information on a website is changing all the time. This is not the case with music. When someone remixes it, it is considered as a new piece of art.

Open source is always changing, but never really finished. Offering software under a share-alike GNU license makes sense, because this will help people to improve the software.

With Creative Commons you can use the derivative works, share-alike attribute, to allow others to build open your work, remix it or embed it in another piece of art. This opens a lot of new possibilities. But again: with the Noncommercial attribute you can’t use it commercially without asking the composer first.

Have you ever thought what happens when you don’t use a Creative Commons license on your website? Yes, indeed: because copyright is some sort of property a person should ask you when he/she wants to use it, even on a private website. So in a way the Noncommercial attribute makes it more simple because at least it allows people to share it when they are not making profit with your music.

My solution

Trust me, I have thought about this for a long, long time. I was thinking about creating definitions for the term Noncommercial, introducing some sort of Wiki to offer an online-definition which is flexible for change. But none of these ideas were simple and clear. It would confuse people, instead of helping them.

I can only think of one simple solution: when music is used in a concept where profit is generated, people should ask for permission first.

If you are running a website with AdSense banners, this might cover the costs. It doesn’t mean you are gaining any profit out of it. Some people who are Podcasting also need these banners to cover the costs. Asking for permission should not be needed. This is common sense. But when you are for example, you do make a lot of profit. A site like that needs to ask for permission. Same as for Quentin Tarantino using your music in a film.

Common sense

Creative Commons stimulates you to use common sense. So please don’t rip-off these artists. But help them instead by file-sharing the songs with your friends and promoting the works. Make small donations if you can.

Help us spread the word. The world is changing and it needs a more flexible copyright system based on common sense; Creative Commons.

(Digg this story)

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