The Open Argument: Dissing the Non-Commercial Clause

There are a lot of folks who seek to get rid of the Non-Commercial clause in CC licenses, stating that they are not open. See for example, “The case against -NC.” 

There are some proposals on the table to make changes to the NC license. Note the use of “Commercial Rights Reserved”/”CRR,” which is an interesting development.  

NC Proposal No. 3: Eliminate or re-brand the NC licenses at 4.0 so they do not use the Creative Commons name, or otherwise stand apart. 


  • Many who have no commercial interest choose the NC license because they believe it is the “more valuable commons”, the one that they would like to see advanced. They are not aware of the practical differences between non-commercial and non-profit or charity work, and of the practical problems in using NC-licensed by any organized entity.
  • Would narrow the CC brand to more “open” licenses, which would be useful because of the vast swaths of people who think of CC-licensed works as just one thing and do not differentiate between license options.


  • Increases search and learning costs for new users/potential users. If Creative Commons Corporation were to do this but continue to support NC licences under another brand it would be accused of deception by those in the open licensing world who don’t like NC licenses.
  • Risks alienating many major NC adopters.

Other comments: The majority (albeit a diminishing majority) of CC works are NC-licensed.

Practical proposal for “otherwise stand apart”: change the name and code from Noncommercial/NC to “Commercial Rights Reserved”/”CRR”. This expresses more closely the actual terms of the present NC license and indicates that the use of this license is for those who intend to commercially sell their works, rather than the “commercially not interested ones” (which currently may often identify themselves with NC). This proposal is discussed in detail on the license mailing list here.


NC Proposal No. 6: Explicitly state that NC licenses are non-free, non-libre and non-open licenses

Pros: Because ‘free’ and ‘open’ are publicly recognised terms with value, making it clear that NC works are not free and open will encourage the use of other licenses.

Cons: The terms ‘open content’, ‘open gaming’ and ‘open educational resources’ have been used broadly to include NC content. The battle about the meaning of open is just beginning as it is increasingly being appropriated by monopolists for example the publishing companies that claim that their ARR works are gratis open access. Unlikely to satisfy those who think that NC licenses should be eliminated.

Other comments: A milder form of Proposal 3


NC Proposal No.11: Rename NC to CRR to clarify real function plus reduce incompatibility by providing NC/CRR term only time-limited.

Proposed Definition: The “CRR” = “Commercial rights reserved” license requires all licensees that would have commercial advantages from using a work to negotiate individual contracts with the licensor. The CRR restriction expires after the year named by the licensor in parentheses after the CRR, this may be a maximum of 20 years from the time of licensing.

Pros: Less misunderstanding of the NC/CRR clause as something with primarily positive connotations, no longer mistaken as something that is more desirable than commercial. Time limiting the NC/CRR clause reduces the license incompatibility proliferation. Dropping the distinction between CC BY-NC and CC BY-NC-SA reduces the confusion about how to fulfill the commitment in the absence of the SA clause. The license is practical, transparent, and fosters re-use. If the expiration would be given only as a duration (“20 years”) licensees would have to research the licensing date, which is often not practical.

Cons: Time-limiting causes minor problems for websites like blogs where the entire website carries a single license (rather than individual works). However, the owners of the site can change the license each year, giving an increased year.

Other Comments: Other proposals relating to time-limited conditions are addressed here