Considering CC-NonCommercial?

About a year ago, I posted a short video on Flickr of my daughter that captured her first moments riding a bicycle without training wheels. When I post images or video to Flickr, I usually assign a Creative Commons license, specifically a Non-Commercial, Attribution, Share-Alike (NC-ATT-SA). When I share moments like this online, I do so for a number of reasons. First, there’s the obvious reason that I like making moments like this accessible to my close friends and family. Second, while I could password protect such videos to share with only a small group, I also like to share such moments with many of my trusted friends from around the world (of which there are too many to list). And third, I believe that in carefully discriminating what to post online and what to avoid, I may, in some ways, demonstrate and model responsible citizenship and personal identity management for my children. Now, not everyone feels as comfortable in posting such photographs and videos online as I do. But in the spirit of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, I ask you not to necessarily buy what I do, but if anything, buy why I do it.

So, several months after posting the video of my daughter, I received a Facebook message from a representative of regarding licensing the video clip. At first, I thought this was going to be some sort of Nigerian 419 scam, but after I performed some careful research about the individual and the company, I ended up licensing the clip to the agency for a new Nokia commercial.

Now, with all the thousands of clips and images I have shared, this is the first time I have ever been paid for something. It may never happen again nor has money ever been a consideration. But, I can think of hundreds of instances where my work, my images, or my videos have shown up elsewhere for educational purposes. For instance, Raj Boora just notified me today that one of my images showed up in this education-related post. While the attribution format could have been a bit more direct (as noted by D’Arcy Norman), I am happy to see my photos being used to help express such ideas.

I guess I should get to the point. I have heard the argument from many people over the years that they didn’t feel right just ‘giving away’ all of their ‘stuff’. For me, I am happy to give away my work, especially if it is found useful, and ideally, if others add to the work or improve it. But if that is not enough for those who refuse to consider Creative Commons licenses, perhaps they should also know that with this CC-NC licensed clip, my daughter now has a very healthy start to her College fund.

28 thoughts on “Considering CC-NonCommercial?

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  2. What a great story, Alec, and I’m glad that it worked out well. I think that some of the logic in those that wouldn’t do the same thing is the sense of the unknown (what are people going to do with my content?) or a belief that their content will always have a dollar value attached to it. But, if we believe in open learning and mix it with wise choices, we can all become richer intellectually from the sharing of others.

  3. Hi Alec,

    This has me curious. Nokia is a for-profit company. I am curious as to how Nokia can use the clip if it’s licensed non-commercial? Doesn’t that go against the spirit of the NC portion? They also did not attribute you.

    So you must have given them a special license? Your post does reference “licensing it to them” so I’d be curious as to the details of that license.

    And even if they didn’t pay you, does that change the terms of the original license?

    Curious thoughts.


  4. Hey Chris,
    These are important questions. This is how I understand how copyleft works.

    When you apply a Creative Commons license to a work, this sets the defaults for its license (in the same way that copyright law sets the default ‘all rights reserved’). Copyleft is based on copyright law, and thus, the legal understanding for license is unless *you* (non-copyright holder) has a different agreement with *me* (the copyright holder), *these* (by/sa/nc, etc.) are the conditions for its use. As the CC license is non-exclusive, the copyright holder retains the right to make a deal with others who want to use the work in ways that are not covered by the license. CC holders still retain copyright (just not all rights). The license remains the same – special deals do not affect the license, but only within the parameters of that agreement with the licensee.

    Had I not asked for NC, Nokia could have used it without licensing it from me.

  5. It’s too bad there isn’t more in this world that works on “have it if you can improve on it” – if there was, we might all be in a much better place, innovation being prized over mere consumption.

  6. @Peter – I actually read that post right before I wrote this. I found my argument in the conclusion, “you could simply wait until anyone actually expresses interest in using your work under a more liberal license than the NC” – I thought this is still appropriate when dealing personal photos vs. professional work.

  7. I’m wondering what Nokia would have done if the clip was under a BY-SA license. They’re producing the kind of advertisement that they would not want to have “Alec Couros” pasted anywhere nor would they really want to have to make notice that it is under SA terms.

    Perhaps you would have been paid with that approach as well. That is, they would have to negotiate with you anyway to disregard the BY-SA.

  8. @peter Good point. You’re probably correct. I’m thinking that the only thing that helped them find it was the generic CC licensing search in Flickr – I assume, not matter the licensing, the brokering company would have attempted the same terms regardless. Perhaps the only real advantage here of CC is where it falls into the search.

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  10. A friend of us (@jordi_a ) says that if you share an idea you only don’t lost it, you still have it and it would grow up if you share it.
    I think definitively is a question of what do you think you are sharing and why…
    Are you sharing ideas, concepts, experiences, or atoms (materia)?
    and even more:
    Do you want to show them to express yourself and take some advantage of your talent, or are you showing this to share your thought and knowledge?
    In my opinion, when some people think about licences and permissions and so on, they continue thinking about atoms :-); some people think that if you share something “by free” you lost it, because of the “valuable” from the shared thing are the materia around it… what is this, what it contains.
    Fortunatelly in a digital technology context, this sharing is based not in what it contains, or what is the materia than compose it and its value… the most valuable part of your things are ideas… and in a digital format, when you share it, you still have it, even if thousand of us use them… and who knows, maybe someone could add something to the idea and enrich it :-)
    I think is a question of spirit of sharing, and thi spirit is more than for working… includes almost everything around you… it is IMHO the real “paradigm” of “the new digital time”… a knowledge time, a plenty of ideas time, a sharing time
    Thanks to share :-)

  11. Wow! How cool is that?

    I once had a magazine contact me about using a picture I took of a funnel spider web ( and another time a woman contacted me about making a print of another pic of a pileated woodpecker ( I asked for a copy of the magazine – which never arrived – so I don’t know if they used the picture or not. But, the lady did make a print of that woodpecker.

    Now to wait for someone who wants to PAY for a picture I took. :-)

    Congratulations. This is very cool, indeed.

  12. This certainly would go into my next “Amazing Stories of Sharing!” And what an achievement as the closing clip of the ad’s message.

    This is a great lesson. In many ways of CC power… It did allow Nokia to use your media, you got some reward, and we allbstill get access to use it too (unlike the Flickr Getty deal which yanks em from cc). It seems people miss this point of CC- you as the rights holder can grant uses above and beyond what it sates. But also, it’s a guide, not an enforcement, so no authority is going to police the SA uses.

    I’ve gone for a long time on the simple, By Attribution licence, which might mean that Nokia could use mine and I would lose out on your gain here. But I honestly don’t seek to make money from the sharing, the thrill of seeing a photo being used elsewhere (something that would not be possible without the open net) is enough… but It might give me pause to reconsider.

    Congrats to you!

  13. Basically, what the NC provision says is that, if they make money, I make money, and they they don’t make money, I don’t make money. Nice, reciprocal, and fair.

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  17. A real shame I think Alec. Considering how rare it is that something like Nokia comes along and offers to pay you for the rights, the NC restriction set as a default over your work means someone like me will never use your work. Because I can’t be sure if or when the derivative I make from it will be deemed commercial. It might be my employer is seen as commercial, it might be that the person who remixes my derivative is seen as commercial. Certainly, given my work on the Wikimedia Foundation projects, its simple – they won’t accept NC, so I can’t use it there. That’s Wikiversity, Wikipedia and Wikibooks.. If I had to go back through my work and ask permission from all those I had once sampled, simply because someone intereted my work as commercial, or because someone wanted to reuse my work “commercially” (for profit school or university perhaps), then you might as well go full copyright All Rights Reserved (from my perspective)

  18. Alan Levine says: “[CC] did allow Nokia to use your media […]”

    No it didn’t. Nokia wanted to use the media in ways not granted by the CC-license. That’s why they had to ask Alec for permission first. From their perspective, it was no different that it was licensed under CC than All Rights Reserved.

  19. Stephen Downes says: “Basically, what the NC provision says is that, if they make money, I make money, and they they don’t make money, I don’t make money. ”

    What it says is that you can’t use the work for commercial purposes without getting permission first. This description makes it out to be more like a profit-sharing scheme. If Nokia tried to make money without permission, Alec could sue them – not file a request that he get a cut of the profit.

    In theory, Nokia could have negotiated a profit-sharing contract with Alec but that would be beyond the demands of the license.

  20. @Leigh – When I licensed the clip to Nokia, the deal doesn’t in any way affect the defaults set to the license. See my comment above to Chris. I am still the copyright holder and the default affordances have not changed.

    As for setting the license as NC, points taken. Alan Levine also set his license to NC recently but then changed back. I’ve decided that I will set my personal family work as NC (as I don’t want my kids exploited for commercial gain), but will change the licensing in other work (but not all work) without the NC.

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  22. Was it shot on a Nokia phone? :-)

    I have a similar story. I took a photo of EBR-1, a place in Idaho. I shared it on Flickr under CC-NC, and subsequently I was approached by an author who wanted to use it in his book. O’Reilly doesn’t have nearly the big money that Nokia does, so I only ended up with a free copy of the book.

  23. Hi Alec. Thanks for pointing me to this post. I’m all for sharing, and I see that the conversation here is really about the CC-NC license. My mental wrestle right now is with how much I post about my two kids, my wife, and all of my family life. I know that there are kind & generous people throughout the internet, but I do worry about those who are really not nice. Do I worry too much? I don’t know. Maybe.

    Thanks Again,
    Roy Norris
    Winnipeg MB

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