H817open: to BY or not to BY, that is the question

This post is a response to Activity 9 which asked participants to choose a Creative Commons licence for this blog and other writing.

This has been a challenging activity because I’m torn between wanting to be ‘open’ and wanting to protect my own work. My instinct is to go for a  CC:BY:NC:SA licence. It would seem entirely reasonable that anything I produce should be attributed to me (BY), that it should not be used for commercial purposes (NC), and that if anyone uses it they should also release it under the same licence (SA – share-alike). While this may seem restrictive, my attitude is somewhat coloured by a nasty experience I had online a few years ago. I had a poem published in an online anthology of writing as part of an output of a writing group. (It was very much a work in progress and not at all good). Some months later I went to access the poem and couldn’t remember where the blog URL was so I just typed in my name and some lines of the poem. When the results came up, I didn’t recognise some lines of the poem. To cut a long story short, it transpired that someone had taken some of the poems produced in a group blog, republished them somewhere else online and changed them in an offensive way, while attributing the ‘revised’ poem to the original author. I felt slightly sick at the time. Luckily the blog editor was able to get the ‘revised’ poems removed. This experience has exposed me to the less savoury aspects of open content and publishing online. It’s also the case that with a work of fiction or creative writing, I would want to retain full copyright and not allow for re-use or re-mixing in any case.

So back to considering what Creative Commons licence I should use for this blog and my online professional and academic writing.  I decided to do some research into the implications of the various restrictions. There doesn’t seem to be any problem around the BY clause, but the other two (NC and SA) seem to bring up pros and cons.

First, NC is apparently a quite difficult clause to apply, because what constitutes commercial could be a grey area. What about websites which host advertising? What about including articles with an NC licence as part of a paid for course? Would I really consider re-use of my posts commercial if they were hosted on a website that had some income generating activities? Because who or what constitutes commercial use is unclear, this may put off scrupulous people who wouldn’t want to take the risk, even though the NC licence is less restrictive than might be commonly thought. I found this post from David Wiley’s blog informative which seems to argue that even with an ‘NC’ licence, in the case of open content, only the OER itself can’t be charged for,  but the services around it could be. So a university or a for profit could use materials with an NC licence but it would still be OK because they are charging for services around the OER and not the OER itself. The status of derived materials or newly re-mixed materials is not so clear cut though – of the newly remixed material was sold as a new product – this would seem to be overtly commercial. I am not sure how I feel about that. So, what are the implications of NOT having an NC clause? Well, CC-BY does indeed allow resale — of something that is already on the Internet for free. After all anyone who pays for content already under CC-BY is paying for being too lazy to search the Internet. However, there appear to be risks with going without the NC clause. For example, status of re-mixes is unresolved, so I think I am going to stay with the NC clause for the blog. (If I were producing a resource that I wanted to actively give away and be re-used, I might take off the NC clause). With this blog though I want to share ideas and connect with people.

Now onto  ‘Share-Alike’. While on the face of it SA appears to be sticking to the mantra of ‘pay it forward’, reading up about it is really confusing me. What share alike means is that if this blog post or resources I am sharing, if you reuse it or remix it, you must also release it under the same licence. Seems fair enough to me. But I found this post of David Wiley’s helpful where he seems to be saying it depends on the perspective. The SA licence prevents others from releasing any new OER under any other licence they choose, which depending on the perspective one has, is either  freeing/protecting the content or is restricting the people using the content: what if the new derivative maker wants to release it on a CC:BY? As Wiley says, SA is helpful for the content perspective but not for people: who is more important?

I decided to look at this issue from a licensee’s point of view.  If I wanted to use my own blog post, I would be happy to attribute it, and I don’t think it is right to make commercial use of someone else’s work, so NC stays. But what about Share Alike? Well, considering I have the NC clause, I don’t feel particularly strongly that people should have to release a derivation on a ‘Share-alike’ although I would like them to.  (This only applies to derivations and not copies, which can be released under any CC licence).

Therefore, I am going to release this blog under a CC:BY:NC. Anything more restrictive seems like overkill for this particular blog. And here it is…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


5 thoughts on “H817open: to BY or not to BY, that is the question

  1. I really appreciate how thoughtful you’ve been here–these are difficult issues, and I like how you’ve gone through the pros and cons.

    There’s also the possibility, I think, of using SA as a kind of NC: if you use CC-BY-SA, then people really can’t use your stuff for commercial purposes. But, as you note, this then restricts others who might want to use it in something that’s licensed CC-BY alone, which they could do if it’s CC-BY-NC, so long as they aren’t using it for “commercial” purposes.

    Your post also brought up a question for me about remixes: if you have NC on your materials/writing, but still allow remixes, then can the remixes be used commercially? Does NC only apply to the original, and not the remix? I hadn’t thought about this question before, and didn’t get a clear sense of an answer from the post. Just wondering what you’ve found out about it.

    • Hi Christina – thanks for your comments. I toyed between NC and SA for the reasons you outline above, in that Share-Alike seems to give an NC-lite protection. But in the end, I thought if I want NC protection, I should just put on NC, as SA prevents future CC:BY for others using it.

      My understanding is that NC applies to remixes (derivatives) as well. The logic of it not applying is that anyone could make a derivative of anything NC and then use it for commercial purposes, which would negate the whole NC in the first place – especially if the point of OERs is to encourage re-mixing, but allow people to protect their work if they want from others’ commercial gain. I haven’t found anything that makes this absolutely certain though.

      • Hi Sukaina:

        Yes, it makes sense that NC would apply to derivatives, but I could imagine it possibly not doing so, because the derivative might be considered something new. So I was curious. Probably I should look it up!

    • Hi Niall

      Hah – hopefully this will stay a Sun or Daily Mail reader free zone :-). Not sure there is a licence for that…

      Thanks for the link to your blog – I have commented on the post on your blog.

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