[okfn-discuss] Removing the nc: why license restrictions on commercial use are problematic and (frequently) unnecessary

Tom Chance tom at acrewoods.net
Thu Apr 27 08:10:37 UTC 2006


On Thursday 27 April 2006 08:16, Saul Albert wrote:
> Rob Myers says that the GPL is like a union or a guild - a way of
> protecting ones labour from expropriation/exploitation - so you never
> find yourself unable to benefit from the fruits of it. NC licenses are
> just ridiculous in this context. It locks peoples labour into very
> specific contexts - mostly academic or the hazy 'third sector' of NGOs,
> quangos, and voluntary organisations that are pretty much commercial if
> you regard students, governments and receivers of charitable funds and
> services as 'clients' - which most of these organisations do.

Well it locks Free or un-permitted usage into those contexts. But if you had a 
clear and much tighter definition of commercial and a transparent way of 
getting permission, by means of something like Magnatune's license clearing 
web site, then you're in a difficult position. It becomes easy to buy 
permission at a fair rate, most commercial users who fit into your categories 
would be happy to do so, and anyone else (e.g. your students) would be let 
off the hook. One could easily argue that such a system might reduce overall 
usage but that it would vastly increase your chances of benefitting from the 
fruits of your labour commercially.

This benefit may be central to your artistic freedom, which might depend upon 
being able to allocate a chunk of time, buy certain materials that your other 
wage can't cover, or some other requirement. Your real freedom may be hugely 
increased by such an NC system.

And really, what benefits of non-commercial exchange are we talking about 
here? Talk to some small/new record labels and their artists. They know 
perfectly well that people copy their CDs and that helps them grow their 
audience, but at the end of the day they make a tiny amount of money from the 
CDs, and generally lose money touring, so they want to ensure they can 
squeeze every penny out of their recordings. Encouraging free commercial use 
of their work won't help them an awful lot, even if it is the Right Thing To 
Do. Cutting off some of the few commercial opportunities they have isn't 
going to wash. Wagging your finger won't convince them otherwise.

> I don't really know why its so popular. It's probably a misdirection of
> some kind, a way of isolating certain kinds of labour from certain kinds
> of exchange - maybe a good way for naively ideological producers to
> limit the scope of their activities to a kind of save zone of
> irrelevance :).

Maybe. Or maybe if you spoke to more people who use NC you'd realise that, for 
many of them, CC BY-NC-SA represents an ideal social contract that ensures 
they will benefit from the fruits of their labour most fully. They may be 
wrong about that, largely because of the practicalities of the license and 
actually getting permission, but those could be ironed out as I suggested 
above. Saying "I want a slice of the action" is pretty commonsense, if only 
it can be guaranteed without making things worse for yourself.

I think there are really two issues here. First, why the current NC system is 
flawed. There can't be much mileage left in that debate, but there's lots of 
scope for good proposals to implement a better NC-type system. Second, why 
any NC system is flawed, and there I've only come across a handful of erudite 
opponents (Rob Myers being one) and lots of simplistic libertarian rebukes :/


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