Creative Commons’ birthday party week is hardly over and the organization responsible for the most common open content licenses is back to its core business: acting as a license steward. As reported repeatedly on this blog (e.g. “Discussing the NC Module“), the NonCommercial (NC) license module has attracted a substantial amount of criticism over the years. The suggestions with regard to the NC module range from fundamental such as to get rid of the module entirely (e.g. by the Students for Free Cutlture) to moderate such as clarify the meaning of the NC clause.

In his most recent statement on the issue, Creative Commons’ Timothy Vollmer indicates that in addition to some uncontroversial suggestions  changing the name of “NonCommercial” to “Commercial Rights Reserved” is on the table:

This last point warrants a specific mention here, as it would be a big (and potentially sensitive) change to the branding of the Creative Commons NonCommercial licenses. This proposal is for a simple renaming of the “NonCommercial” license element to “Commercial Rights Reserved,” without any change in the definition of what it covers. Renaming it to something that more accurately reflects the operation of the license may ensure that it is not unintentionally used by licensors who intend something different. For more information about the idea and rationale behind this proposal, please see the CC wiki page on the topic.

While being more sympathetic to the NC license module overall than many free culture apologists, I think the decision to simply rename it would be a wise one. The reason is simply that many users of Creative Commons licenses that do not have commercial interests feel naturally attracted to using the NC module just because of its name. At the same time, people with business models for Creative Commons content in mind often find choosing the “NonCommercial” module to be counterintuitive, as well – even though it is designed to enable exactly those business models. Changing the name of the module to “Commercial Rights Reserved” would make its meaning much clearer. On the wiki page advocating the name change the following rationale is given:

“NonCommercial” sounds like a rejection of a lot of the ideas that people find most frustrating about the current default full-copyright culture, and that initial appeal is difficult to get beyond when you want to explain the actual practical effect of using the license. And for licensors who are more commercially-minded themselves, “NonCommercial” has a different set of associations—as though using a “NonCommercial” license means that it stifles competition and protects the interests they do have in a way that the more open licenses wouldn’t, which is not always correct on further examination.


In addition, I would also suggest to establish a seal entitled “Compatible with Wikipedia” for more open licenses. Such a seal would be more convincing than the current seal “Approved for Free Cultural Works”. Potential license users know Wikipedia but not necessarily have clear understanding of the much more fuzzy term “Free Culture”.