Sophie Alexander Navigating the "Non-Commercial" Clause of Creative Commons Licences
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By Sophie Alexander


The Creative Commons licence is an increasingly popular tool used to share online content and make it easier to enforce copyright but the "commercial" clause isn’t that clearly defined and leaves many people confused. Sophie Alexander tries to clear up some of the ambiguity surrounding "non-commercial" use.


It's been nearly 15 years since the Creative Commons created their licences and they've become an increasingly popular tool for sharing online content. The licences were designed to make it easier for people to share online content without worrying about breaching copyright law.

Despite their popularity, there have been very few disagreements concerning the "non-commercial" clause of some of its licences, the definition of which many people still find confusing. 

It could be that some users are simply avoiding using work if it has a non-commercial licence attached to it, rather than risk infringement. This limits reuse and goes against the purpose of the Creative Commons licences.

What Counts as "Commercial"?

The definition of "commercial" is rather vague and although there are some examples of use-cases on the Creative Commons website, the organisation doesn't give advice on "non-commercial" use. Nor have there been any cases that define what non-commercial actually means.

Sometimes it's obvious when a work has been used for commercial purposes but not all cases are as clear cut and it usually comes down to why a person is using a work rather than the type of user. So a non-profit could still find itself in violation of the non-commercial clause if it uses the work for a commercial purpose.

Want to Know More?

Open access publishing has increasingly embraced the Creative Commons licences, particularly the more liberal CC-BY licence. But even in this area the more restrictive non-commercial licences are still quite common, so it's important to know when you can and cannot use a work, to avoid breaching the non-commercial clause.

If you or your organisation regularly share content online or just want to learn more about the Creative Commons licences, the article "Creative Commons - What Constitutes 'Commercial' Use?" takes a look at the definition of "commercial use", highlights some of the cases where users are likely to fall foul of the non-commercial restriction, and provides some useful links.  

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