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Copyright Office

Back in October of 2008, MLibary became one of the first academic libraries to apply a Creative Commons license to its website content. At the time, the Library opted for the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial (“CC BY NC”) license. More recently, on November 18th, 2010, the library changed the default Creative Commons license used for all content created by librarians and staff hosted on the library website to an Attribution-only (“CC BY”) license.

Why did we opt for a CC BY NC license initially then – after some experience – remove the non-commercial restriction? Greg Grossmeier, Copyright Specialist at MPublishing, explains how the Creative Commons License MLibrary chose enables content creation. 

Why use a Creative Commons license at all?
Before we get into the reasons why MLibrary changed its license, it is important to review the types of uses we are hoping to encourage by using any Creative Commons license in the first place. In the most simple of terms, we hope to encourage adaptations and redistribution of our content.

First, we are delighted to see our work actually used, improved or incorporated into new resources. When other organizations reuse our work (for example, another institution using some of our libguides) we know that others appreciate our work and find it useful. Second, by using a Creative Commons license that allows derivatives we enable others to make translations of the work without the need to get prior permission. With our use of a Creative Commons license we enable others to make translations and redistribute them for even wider reuse of our work.

Why remove the NonCommercial restriction?
First, removing the NonCommercial restriction provides greater clarity for those wishing to reuse our content. The NonCommercial clause in the CC licenses does not fully define what a “commercial use“ is. Thus, an individual or organization wishing to use our work cannot always be certain that their use would be acceptable. If they are uncertain, the users or organizations will either contact MLibrary to ask for clarification/permission (something which we wanted to avoid by using a Creative Commons license in the first place) or they will elect to simply not use our material. Unfortunately, the second scenario is typical.

A report released by Creative Commons in 2009 found that content creators see more uses as noncommercial than do content reusers. This means that individuals and organizations tend to self-censor their reuses of a NC-licensed work because they erroneously believe that their use will be considered a commercial use, thus not permissible by the license.

The MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) project uses a NonCommercial license from Creative Commons for their content. They elected to be explicit with their interpretation of what “non-commercial“ means. While this is very useful for users of MIT OCW materials it does not scale easily. This is because it is simply defining “non-commercial“ for MIT — and that definition might not be the same for all creators using NonCommercial licenses. Thus, it is not advisable for all creators using a NonCommercial license to write their own definition of “non-commercial.”

If 1000 people are asked to write their definition of “non-commercial” you will probably get 1000 different definitions. If all users of NonCommercial licenses produced their own definition of “non-commercial” then potential users will need to read that definition closely, and possibly ask for legal advice, each time they wish to reuse a work. Ironically, the more specific each content creator is about its particular view of ‘commercial’, the more confused and inconsistent the situation becomes. This confusion and inconsistency is the exact situation that Creative Commons aspires to eliminate.

Secondly, with the use of the Attribution-only license, the library is making a strong commitment to compatibility with other Freely and Openly licensed materials such as Wikipedia. If two licenses are incompatible with each other it means that content from one can not be incorporated into a work under the other. The NonCommercial clause is incompatible with many other open content licenses, including other Creative Commons licenses. In fact, it is only compatible with three out of the six Creative Commons licenses.

CC License Compatibility Chart

As the chart above shows, the most compatible license available (aside from waiving all copyrights) is the Attribution-only license. This allows others to reuse our content in the largest number of places and contexts including, importantly, the CC BY SA licensed Wikipedia.

By using the most compatible license available from Creative Commons, MLibrary enables efficient content creation. We make it possible for users to worry less about license incompatibility and permissions — and instead spend more time on the actual creation of quality content. We hope to see the positive influence of this throughout the local, national, and international library communities.