Archive for the ‘Creative Commons’ Category


Openly Commercial

October 25, 2012

The Non-commercial component of the Creative Commons (CC) licences has occasionally given rise to some uncertainty and debate amongst those interested in copyright licensing. (See About the Licences for a reminder of the different CC licences.)

The CC licences which contain the NC component refers to commercial use, as used:

“in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.”.

So what does that cover exactly?

CC guidance below and from @mollyali is very useful, but as with many things of a legal nature, they do not provide absolute certainty, as there are usually a number of factors at play:

In CC’s experience, whether a use is permitted is usually pretty clear, and known conflicts are relatively few considering the popularity of the NC licenses. However, there will always be uses that are challenging to categorize as commercial or noncommercial. CC cannot advise you on what is and is not commercial use. If you are unsure, you should either contact the creator or rightsholder for clarification, or search for works that permit commercial uses. Please note that CC’s definition does not turn on the type of user: if you are a non profit or charitable organization, your use of an NC-licensed work could run afoul of the NC restriction; and if you are a for-profit entity, your use of an NC-licensed work does not necessarily mean you have violated the term.

A CC commissioned study “of how people understand ‘noncommercial use’” was published in 2009. @plagiarismtoday provides a good potted summary of the report. Notwithstanding the 2009 report and “known conflicts” relating to the NC licensed being “relatively few” the NC component of the CC licence still generates much deliberation and debate.

Some objections to the NC licences relate to a viewpoint that they are not truly ‘open’ as they block licence interoperability and frictionless remix and reuse of content. The NC licence remains popular, however, and some CC adopters may well experiment initially by using a NC licence before choosing more permissive licences in due course.

The CC BY NC SA licence is a popular choice of licence amongst Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs). The Open University’s OpenLearn, MIT Open Courseware (MITOCW) and Open Yale Courses (OYC) all use a Creative Commons (CC) BY NC SA licence for their open educational resources (OER).

The JORUM Final Report published in 2011, indicates that the majority of the resources deposited within the JORUM repository are from the Academy/JISC OER Programme and a high percentage is from HEIs and licensed with a CC BY NC SA licence.

Although OpenLearn, MITOCW & OYC, all use a CC BY NC SA licence, all three institutions provide additional ‘”guidelines intended to help users determine whether or not their use of OCW materials would be permitted”

There are differences between the guidelines provided by the three institutions in the degree of permissiveness. For example OpenLearn permits “educational institutions, commercial companies or individuals to use the CC licensed content” and permits use of the “content as part of a course for which you charge an admission fee” and permits the charging of “a fee for any value added services you add in producing or teaching based around the content providing that the content itself is not licensed to generate a separate, profitable income” This would therefore appear to permit a commercial training company to reuse OpenLearn CC BY NC SA licensed content as part of a fee paying training course as long as the licensed content itself is not monetised.

OYC, by contrast, does not permit sites, that “provides and/or promotes services for which the user will be charged a fee (e.g., tutor services),” to use the CC licensed content.

MITOCW, whilst stating that “A corporation may use OCW materials for internal professional development and training purposes.” also states  “A commercial education or training business may not offer courses based on OCW materials if students pay a fee for those courses and the business intends to profit as a result.” So a commercial organisation can carry out staff development using MITOCW CC BY NC SA licensed content but they may not provide chargeable external training.

Does it matter that even though MIT, Yale and the Open University all use the CC BY NC SA licence yet they intend and permit different uses of their licensed content?

Some of the benefits of CC licenses include the ease of use, and the familiarity of the symbols and the speed in understanding the human-readable Commons Deed. This enables the user of the licensed content to glean quite easily and quickly what their rights and obligations are in respect of the content. The provision of additional guidelines in the above examples may undermine some of these benefits and place an unnecessary burden on the user. It also contributes to uncertainty and detracts from any possibility of  consensus on the use and understanding of a NC licence.

The reason many institutions choose the NC licence may be to control the potential or perceived potential commercialisation of the licensed content. There is quite a compelling argument that content arising from state funded programme should be licensed with the most permissive terms. For example the US Department of Labour is funding $2 billion over four years to create OER materials for career training programs in community colleges. Where new learning materials are created using the grant funds, those materials must be made available under CC Attribution licence (CC BY).

I imagine it would not be easy in UK universities and colleges to demarcate “sate funded content” from the University’s “privately funded content” . Many HEIs and FEIs have a revenue generating ‘business arm.’ What is state funded and what is the commercial arm of the institution may be quite blurred.

To achieve the widest possible access and participation in global education the most appropriate CC licence for ‘open’ educational resources is the CC BY licence. But it doesn’t appear to be always such an easy procedural or cultural step for organisations to take.

If an institution decides that a CC licence with a NC component is the most appropriate licence for its needs, the CC+ Protocol may be worth exploring  for example by universities who may be making moves towards becoming private.

Creative Commons developed its free licences to enable people to share their works as they choose. Using the CC+ protocol permits copyright owners to easily accommodate acceptable non-commercial uses while directing commercial traffic to their own fee-based agreement.

What is CC+?

CC+ is a Creative Commons license plus another agreement, for example:

A copyright owner may pair a CC Attribution-Non-Commercial license [that is the CC] with a non-exclusive commercial agreement [that is the +] enabling a copyright owner to license the work commercially for a fee.

The [+] is a means to provide a simple click through to rights or opportunities beyond those offered in the CC licence. The creator is able to leverage the expanded exposure that results from otherwise freely distributed content.

CC+ is not another CC licence; rather it is a means to point users toward the copyright owner’s own “extension” of rights that may be additional to the existing CC license. The copyright owner is responsible for constructing the license that expresses those additional terms and conditions.

CC+ has many uses and advantages for both commercial and non-commercial users, for example:

  • A copyright owner of content may choose to use a CC Attribution Non-Commercial (CC BY NC) Licence to make content available on the web so they can be shared easily and freely on a non-commercial basis providing attribution is given
  • The copyright owner in this example may pair this CC BY NC licence with a + click-through to non-exclusive rights beyond those permitted under the CC licence such as allowing commercial use in return for a fee.

Other additional permissions beyond those provided in CC licences may include: permission to reuse without providing attribution (paired with any of the six CC licences); or permission to use without having to share alike (paired with CC BY SA or CC BY NC SA licences) or permission to create derivative works (paired with the CC BY ND or CC BY NC ND licences).

CC+ is another means by which copyright owners are able to exercise their copyright as they choose, on their own terms. Using the CC licence enables the free, easy and legal means of sharing on the web whilst the “extension” of permissions provided by the + has the benefit of clear “signposting” to commercial terms for additional uses of the copyrighted works.

[This is a repost of a guest blog I wrote for UK Web Focus earlier in 2012.]


Copyright term extension – music to some ears

October 24, 2011

The recent (12th September 2011) copyright extension, by the European Parliament and Council, of copyright in sound recordings and performances from 50 to 70 years, was greeted with mixed and often contrasting reaction. For example: It was described as a “brilliant moment” by General Secretary of The Musicians Union and as “a cultural disaster” by Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group.

The UK government backed the extension which ought to surprise, as the UK government commissioned the Hargreaves Review on IP & Growth, which reported in May 2011, and which appeared to be arguing against copyright term extension referring to the need for economic evidence. The Gower’s Review another government commissioned review in 2006 had been more specific in its argument against term extensions.

photo of Ed Vaizey, who was in favour of the extension, by Dept of CM&S on Flickr CC BY NC ND

The lobbying on this issue from the music industry has been indisputably vocal. As Music Week states: “The industry – backed by Music Week’s Extend The Term campaign – has waged a skilful, but difficult lobbying exercise, to first persuade the UK Government of the merits and economic benefits of copyright term extension, and then push the legislators in Brussels in the right direction.”

The legislators were indeed “pushed in the right direction’” and the Directive passed by 17-8 votes. Belgium was one of the states that voted against the extension referring to “a negative impact on the accessibility of cultural material” for consumers as one of its arguments.

The proponents for the term extension point to the hard pressed session and ‘non-superstar’ featured artists who stand to lose out on vital royalties at their most vulnerable stage of life if the copyright term remained at 50 years. The Council of the EU referred to how some performers “face an income gap at the end of their lifetimes”.

Proponents for the term extension also argue that the resulting royalties will be reinvested to support fresh talent. They point to provisions in the Directive such as: a record label financed fund for musicians who signed away their rights when a recording was made; a clause to allow performers to renegotiate contracts with record labels after 50 years; a provision to enable artists to regain their rights to a recording if their label is not marketing or making the recording available to the public; as all being illustrative of a fair deal for the artists.

Many well-known artists have welcomed the extension.

However, not all musicians are convinced. Ed O’Brien of Radiohead who is also one of the leaders of the Featured Artists Coalition, a British group that advocates for musicians’ rights referring to the term extension said: “It means they have 20 more years in servitude to contracts that are no longer appropriate to a digital age.”

And Sandie Shaw said: “This is extremely good news for record companies and collection agencies, but bad news for artists.”

Some experts studying the issue also remain unconvinced that the artists are going to benefit. Martin Kretschmer, Professor of Information Jurisprudence and Director of Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management at Bournemouth University says: “72% of the financial benefits from term extension will accrue to record labels. Of the 28% that will go to artists, most of the money will go to superstar acts, with only 4% benefitting those musicians that the European Council claims is facing “income gap at the end of their lifetimes”

The percentages Professor Kretschemer quotes are difficult to ignore. I am able to appreciate the arguments of the rights holders of the works of certain ‘superstar’ artists (such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones) not wanting to lose revenue from lucrative catalogues when their copyright expires. Importantly however the beneficiary artists and rights holders are very few in number. The change in the law benefits a relatively small number of people but affects a large number of artists and members of the public, with any significant sums of revenues going to the rights holders (the record labels) and superstar artists. Not for the first time we have an example of copyright policy and law being changed to benefit a few but affecting the many, copyright term being extended upwards rather than down in order to align with terms existing in other jurisdictions. Professor Hargreaves’s plea for evidence based policy on intellectual property appears to have been unheeded by the UK government.

It’s been said that if the term extension Directive had not been voted through there was a risk of hits from the Sixties being “lost to the public domain” the counter argument is that now the Directive is to be implemented the public domain has been deprived of the hits as well as the “non-hits” that may have been re-discovered and released.

I remain unconvinced that smaller artists will benefit due to the term extension and can’t argue with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group who says “It puts money into the pockets of big labels – it’s unlikely to benefit smaller artists”

The music industry comprises of a myriad of players in a labyrinthine landscape which includes the performer, producer, the record label, collection societies. This complex network is further complicated by copyright law. Accounts of declining revenues in the music industry are common place, blamed on copyright infringement more often than not. Arguably new business models are needed and slowly evolving.

Looking at this complex picture very simplistically, I personally would like to see the artist enjoy more freedom over her creative work; to be able to exercise more flexibility over it that would allow her to make better use of the online opportunities for self-promotion. If artists assign their copyright to record labels or collection societies as is usual in the UK and generally in Europe, they are not able to share their own works for free by licensing it say under a non-commercial creative commons licence. This form of self-promotion may not be suitable or necessary for the super-star block buster type of artist but for those artists that don’t fall into that category (the majority) may benefit from the viral nature of digital sharing. The way the music industry is structured and the contractual relationships between the artists and the record labels and collection societies don’t currently appear to make it easy for the artists to explore such opportunities.

Photo of CC by Kalexanderson on Flickr CC BY SA

Amongst the examples of artists who have used creative commons licence to good effect include Curt Smith formerly of Tears for Fears who is a great proponent of Creative Commons (CC) licences for his music.

Photo of Curt Smith by Randy Stewart on Flickr CC BY SA

Nine Inch Nails is another often cited example. There are numerous others on the CC website

A very interesting illustration of evolving business models in the music industry is provided by Brian Message who is an accountant turned music manager and investor. Message used to manage Radiohead amongst other well-known names and is only too aware of the new way of doing things in the music industry: “Under the new way of doing things, you’re a chief executive of an artist’s business with multiple revenue streams that go across multiple countries,” he says.

In contrast to the usual deals entered into by artists the bands Message signs get to keep ownership of their work. The contract is a so-called “360 deal”: all income – from records, concerts, merchandise, commercial tie-ins, everything – is split between band and backers, after the initial investment has been repaid.” Message explains “We’re trying to get away from a copyright trading model more towards a venture capitalist approach with artists”. This is a start-up model of entrepreneurial musicians which is very interesting and crucially the artists retain the rights over their creative works. Rights ownership is the crucial thing – this provides the freedom the flexibility and the control.

There are some interesting copyright challenges percolating in the US relating to who should own the rights and for how long. The New York Times reported on September 12th:“The copyright law approved by Congress in 1976 includes a provision, known as “termination rights,” that allows recording artists and songwriters to reclaim ownership of their work after 35 years.

Many American musicians, who made recordings in the 1970s, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Loretta Lynn, are now filing such claims. The four major labels — Sony, Universal, EMI and Warner — are strenuously resisting, arguing that the performers were employees doing “work for hire,” and thus not entitled to claim copyright.”

This development is worth keeping an eye on.

Photo of singer by Joe Abbruscato on Flickr CC BY NC

It is worth noting that the European Commission had originally proposed an extension to a term of 95 years from the existing 50 years. So the extension to 70 years is a minor concession. Organisations such as Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Open Rights Group (ORG) should take credit for their efforts in this regard.

Other vocal opponents to the extension included Christian Engström, Pirate MEP.

Bizarrely much of the evidence that the European Commission relied on proposing the Directive appears to have been sourced from the British Phonographic Industry.

It is not clear if or how much awareness or interest in the term extension there is amongst the general public. There may be a lack of awareness of the significance of the changes to the law amongst the public. At the time Lord Mandelson, the then UK Business Secretary announced the Digital Economy Act in October 2009, there was a suggestion there would be a drive to raise public awareness about copyright and copyright infringement. This was promised by the government in order to address cases of copyright infringement covered by the provisions of the Digital Economy Act. This awareness raising has yet to happen. At the time the Digital Economy Act was voted through (in April 2010) by parliament in the final days of the previous Labour government, there was palpable outrage and objection at some of the controversial parts of the Act, amongst online communities (e.g. Twitter) while the awareness or concern amongst the members of the public was not apparent. It is arguable that more needs to be done to ensure the public are more aware of the value of the public domain and the consequences of the changes in law such as this term extension that is depriving the public domain.

There appears to be two groups of people who will benefit as a result of the extended term: the record labels and the multi- millionaire mega-acts/artists. I personally struggle to be convinced by the argument that the session artists and the non-superstar featured artists benefit at any notable level.

The Guardian provides some sobering figures “figures estimated by a group of economists, intellectual property experts and music academics who studied the effects of copyright term extension: “the typical performing artist, the annual payout is in the lower hundreds of pounds and will not increase from extension … £250 a year is not a pension.”

The same Guardian article features an artist (Nic Jones) who had a hit album in 1980 but received no royalties as he doesn’t own the recordings. It would appear to be that it is the rights and the contractual relationships between the artist and the others in the music industry that needs renegotiating for a fairer deal for the artists who are not in the well-known Beatles league.

Copyright is necessary and may fuel creativity in the short term by providing an income to artists but hinders creativity in the longer term by creating monopolies and preventing creative reuses. It is worth reminding ourselves that copyright term was originally 14 years . Most (two-thirds) of the revenue from a recoding is said to be generated in the first six years. So the arguments in favour of the extension to 70 years would appear to be unconvincing. Unfortunately UK and European legislators do not agree.

Mimi & Eunice sums it all up much better than I can ever hope to.


UK Crown Copyright & Parliamentary Copyright

June 17, 2011

I read with interest to move to Creative Commons? by @jamesfirth from yesterday. Catching up with some of the twitter conversations about it from yesterday, as well as reading  Does it Make Sense for Government to Make Their Content Creative Commons… or Fully Public Domain?  today, nudged me to comment on the Techdirt piece regarding the important distinction between Crown Copyright & Parliamentary Copyright:

“It’s important to keep in mind the distinction between UK Crown Copyright and Parliamentary Copyright: 

Crown Copyright (with some exceptions: ) is covered by the UK Open Government Licence: (OGL) which came into effect January 2010 – this licence is ‘similar’ to & ‘interoperable with’ a CC BY licence. So UK government (former & current) deserve credit for this move (although adoption of CC BY licence would have been preferable). We in the UK probably need to shout more about the OGL and the extent of government material that is available for reuse on similar terms to a CC BY licence. 

Parliamentary Copyright is not currently covered by the OGL and a ‘click use’ parliamentary licence applies: – however, changes to this are being considered by the government. 

The word, regarding Parliamentary Copyright, from The National Archive, (the UK Government Body that manages both Crown and Parliamentary Copyright), by email today, is: 

“Parliament intend to move to an “open ” licence later this year. The National Archives has been working with Parliament in the last few months and have identified a number of options which are currently under consideration, however at this stage no decision has been made as to the licence(s) that will apply.”

So hope positive changes are on the way.