Published at: 20 Mar 2023

NonCommercial considered harmful

I strongly advice against using Creative Commons licenses with a “NonCommercial” (NC) clause, both for artists and users alike.

The NC clause vaguely forbids any “commercial use” of the work on a surface level, but what many don’t realize is that it actually causes collateral damage as well.

Negative effects of NonCommercial

The NonCommercial restriction is incompatible with free culture.

This clause is almost always unnecessary to prevent capitalist exploitation, but it deals collateral damage to the free culture movement in general. Whatever capitalist exploitation you might prevent, many non-commercial actors will get caught up in the crossfire.

This is why in the free culture movement, NC licenses are considered to be “non-free”, as they are against the essential freedom to use a work for any purpose.

To quote, other reasons against NC include:

  • They make your work incompatible with a growing body of free content, even if you do want to allow derivative works or combinations.
  • They may rule out other basic and beneficial uses which you want to allow.
  • They support current, near-infinite copyright terms.
  • They are unlikely to increase the potential profit from your work, and a share-alike license serves the goal to protect your work from unethical exploitation equally well.

Further reading:

I believe the NonCommercial clause is especially harmful because it gives people a false sense of safety. It allows people to associate themselves with the free culture movement without actually committing to it. The Creative Commons organization directly contributes to this harm by officially endorsing it.

For users, I advice anyone to not touch NC works with a ten-meter pole. Treat them as if any use of these works would instantly make you vulnerable to a billion lawsuits, as if the work was under full copyright restrictions. Why? Because NonCommercial clause is simply too unpredictable.

Where NonCommercial work can’t be used

When you think of “commercial”, you likely think of the big greedy mega-corporations. And yeah, you’re not wrong. However, the clause is much more far-reaching. These people and institutions get caught up in the crossfire and likely can’t safely use NC works:

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.