Tuesday, 15 September 2009

What does (non)commercial mean? Some practical data

Thanks are due to Aurelia J. Schultz for letting me know about the publication by Creative Commons of a new study, Defining "Noncommercial:" A Survey of How the Online Population Defines "Noncommercial" Use. According to the Creative Commons press release,
"The Report details the results of a research study launched in September 2008 to explore differences between "commercial" and "noncommercial" uses of content found online, as those uses are understood by various communities in connection with a wide variety of content.

The study investigated understandings of noncommercial and use the the Creative Commons "NC" license term through empirical online surveys of content creators and users in the U.S., open access (non random) polls of global "Creative Commons Friends and Family," interviews with thought leaders, and focus group discussions with participants from around the world who create and use a wide variety of online content".
According to the excerpts from the Executive Summary,
"The empirical findings suggest that creators and users approach the question of noncommercial use similarly [Might this be because, while the functions of creator and user are different, so many people increasingly belong to both categories] and that overall, online U.S. creators and users are more alike than different in their understanding of noncommercial use. Both creators and users generally consider uses that earn users money or involve online advertising to be commercial, while uses by organizations, by individuals, or for charitable purposes are less commercial but not decidedly noncommercial [This suggests the need to recognise a third category rather than the traditional binary split between commercial and non-commercial]. Similarly, uses by for-profit companies are typically considered more commercial. Perceptions of the many use cases studied suggest that with the exception of uses that earn users money or involve advertising – at least until specific case scenarios are presented that disrupt those generalized views of commerciality – there is more uncertainty than clarity around whether specific uses of online content are commercial or noncommercial [ie. there is agreement in theory, but not on specifics].
Uses that are more difficult to classify as either commercial or noncommercial also show greater (and often statistically significant) differences between creators and users. As a general rule, creators consider the uses studied to be more noncommercial (less commercial) than users. For example, uses by a not-for-profit organization are generally thought less commercial than uses by a for-profit organization, and even less so by creators than users. The one exception to this pattern is in relation to uses by individuals that are personal or private in nature. Here, it is users (not creators) who believe such uses are less commercial [There's a parallel here in terms of file-sharing, where users see their uses as private, therefore noncommercial, while rights owners see the same uses as lost sales, therefore commercial].
The most notable differences among subgroups within each sample of creators and users are between creators who make money from their works, and those who do not, and between users who make money from their uses of others’ works, and those who do not. In both cases, those who make money generally rate the uses studied less commercial than those who do not make money. The one exception is, again, with respect to personal or private uses by individuals: users who make money consider these uses more commercial than those who do not make money.
The results of the survey provide a starting point for future research [It's so refreshing to read this statement. So often, initial survey results are taken as immutable truths and are extrapolated in every imaginable direction. This blog welcomes the recognition that research of this sort is often best done by stepping-stones]. In the specific context of the Creative Commons licenses, the findings suggest some reasons for the ongoing success of Creative Commons NC licenses, rules of thumb for licensors releasing works under NC licenses and licensees using works released under NC licenses, and serve as a reminder to would-be users of the NC licenses to consider carefully the potential societal costs of a decision to restrict commercial use. They also highlight the need for caution when considering whether to modify the CC NC licenses in the course of a license versioning process or otherwise, so that expectations of those using NC licenses are preserved, not broken.".
The study home page provides access to the press release, the report itself, the survey appendix, and research data.

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