Creative Commons licensing for my blog – why commercial use is fine

This is a short post to justify my choice of Creative Commons license for my blog, which forms our current activity. Having reviewed the various options, the choice was not too difficult for me. I went for the Attribution-ShareAlike license, and have added a rather smart logo to the explanation of my blog to indicate this.

Why this one? Well, for a start, there doesn’t seem to be much point in asserting exclusive copyright over my blog. It is out there as a contribution to debate so if people want to quote or use it, provided they acknowledge where it came from, I am fine with that. It also makes sense to me that, if someone does want to alter or remix it (I’d be flattered if they did!), then, again with acknowledgement, I think that should also be distributed freely.

The decision I have also made is that I am not excluding commercial use of my material. In our reading, there is a good article on this point by Eric Moller. He clearly shows that a restriction on “commercial use” is pointless an unenforceable. What is “commercial use”? Many blogs carry advertising to generate some income for the blogger. does that make them commercial? What we seem to have here is an ideological view that “commercial” use is somehow less worthy to be encouraged than “non-commercial”, a distinction that doesn’t make too much sense in the real world.

I have to admit that I have become sensitive on the use of terms like “commercial” I work for a for-profit education provider, including higher education. Are our courses commercial? Yes, of course, we charge money for people to take our courses and that serves to cover our costs and generate a return for the shareholders who have invested in the creation of those courses and in building the organisation. We will be successful if we provide courses people want to take, i.e. good ones. And there is stringent regulation in place to avoid compromising academic standards in the interests of growth.

In this model are we, for practical purposes, all that different to other universities and colleges? They charge for courses, and depend for their survival on generating enough income from students’ fees and any other sources of funding they receive. They do not have shareholders, which means that they can return any surpluses, but also do not perhaps have the same level of accountability. It is not obvious to me that this is a “better” model than the commercial one. I would also question whether universities are in any sense “non-commercial” as I look at the barrage of marketing they unleash on the world via posters, press, social media, email and so on. They seem very committed to the commercial (and perfectly valid) goal of expanding or maintaining student numbers.

This confusion between what is commercial and what isn’t can even lead to some ethical tangles. According to a paper we reviewed earlier in the course, OpenLearn, the Open University’s open learning platform, cost over $11m to create – these things do not come cheap. Apparently, nearly $9m of this came from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a major charitable foundation. All very well, except that anyone who spends any length of time on the OpenLearn site will find not only some good learning material but also a major exercise in brand-building and marketing for the OU’s paid-for courses. The OU, of course is free to market itself however it chooses. But should a charitable foundation be funding something that is at least partly its marketing programme?

Slightly off-topic I know, but I like to think I have struck a small blow for the false and unhelpful split between “commercial” and “non-commercial” educational use.



Filed under H817 Openness and innovation in elearning

8 responses to “Creative Commons licensing for my blog – why commercial use is fine

  1. Guy Cowley

    …..but would you be flattered if a revision entirely changed the meaning of your work but it remained superficially attributed to you? Are you comfortable to cede the right of revision without renouncing attribution? A bit like giving someone a signed cheque… requires a lot of trust re what they will do with it.

    • On my reading, this situation is covered by the description of the license I am using which states: “You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).” So there is a distinction between my work and whatever someone else does with it. Someone could flout this I suppose but that is the same with any licence. Realistically, with hundreds of millions of blogs and other channels around the internet, someone could do something with my work and chances are I would never even know about it. This is where there are issues of trust in many cases.

  2. Surely ordinary copyright would allow other people to quote your posts, argue about them and so on within the concept of “fair use”?

    • It would, but I also think copyright creates some “grey areas”, which are removed by this license. To give one small example, I had an article published on social media and received a very nice email from a Danish academic asking if I was happy for him to distribute the article to his students and get their comments on it. Of course I,said yes and felt flattered. But would ordinary copyright allow this? Could it be used as part of course materials somewhere? Printing it out for class use? I genuinely don’t know (despite having had various briefings on copyright), and this uncertainty is a bad thing. When it comes to my blog posts, they are my gift to the world and I am quite happy if anyone finds them useful.

      Of course, I am applying this license only to my blog. If I were to write a book or publish in some other form, I might decide to invoke normal copyright, and am still free to do this. What do you think?

  3. This is an excellent post and explanation of the problems with the “commercial” vs. “non-commercial” distinction. I, too, find this extremely confusing; I have often wondered whether my blog, being hosted by my university, counts as “non-commercial.” The university is using my blog (on a central syndication site) for PR purposes, possibly attracting students or donors (not just my blog, of course; numerous ones…I don’t think mine is going to be all that attractive…but the point is still legit!). So in a way, it might help the university make money. That’s a bit of a stretch, probably, but ultimately I think your point is correct: it’s very hard to distinguish between commercial and non-commercial purposes at times. And I am persuaded by Moller’s other arguments as well.

    Thanks for a very good, well-written post!

  4. Somehow almost all of the activities done on the Internet are commercial activities even if it’s for a Profit or a Sharity, there’s always a common cause (Earning Something out of it) I have to say Thank you for talking about this topic!

    • Thanks Christina and Joe. I agree with you both very much – the lines between commercial and non-commercial are usually far more blurred than anyone would like to admit. Very glad you liked the post.

  5. Pingback: Something to say | learningshrew

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