Read the fine print.

Here’s another thing.

Since it was launched, people have been touting Creative Commons as a great idea. And it is, frankly. There are a lot of creators out there who do want to share their work in a spirit that focuses on attribution and perpetuating the work (because the more a work is distributed the more it will live on, one way or another). And — well, I don’t need to promote CC or point out how it’s been used by various publishers and self-publishers.

But just one thing: please, before you decide to use a CC licence for your work, make sure it means what you think it means.

Publishers may choose the non-commercial use version of the CC licence, thinking that by doing so they have prevented anybody from profiting in any way from the use of their work. When you read the bright, clear language on the allegedly “human-readable summary” page for the attribution-noncommercial-noderivs (unported) CC licence, you see this:

Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

That’s great. However, you might not realize that this does not guarantee that the CC licence prohibits any commercial use.

Why? Because the CC licence makes a point of stating that, notwithstanding the rest of its provisions, there is no derogation from the user’s fair dealing or fair use rights. If you read a little further down on the human-readable summary page, you’ll also see this:

Your fair dealing and other rights are in no way affected by the above.

(If you’re reading a US-ported version, it will say “fair use”.)

And if you click through to read the actual licence text (which, by the way, was written by a human, too), you’ll see (unported version again):

Nothing in this License is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any uses free from copyright or rights arising from limitations or exceptions that are provided for in connection with the copyright protection under copyright law or other applicable laws.

The fact is that while much of fair dealing or fair use is non-commercial in nature, some uses of copyrighted works may be fair and have a commercial aspect at the same time. If I do research in order to provide a service to clients who pay me for my work, depending on my activity I may be dealing fairly with the research materials I use, but there is still a commercial aspect to my use.

Let’s take the example of the previous post: the situation where the publisher doesn’t want somebody making money by teaching classes from patterns that are distributed free of charge, even if the teacher directs the students to get their own copies. Clearly, there is some kind of commercial use going on; the teacher (who probably has her own copy) is reading the pattern, and helping her students knit the pattern from their own copies — for a fee. The exam question: would a CC non-commercial licence suit the publisher’s requirements, and why or why not? Would your answer change if the teacher did hand out copies of the pattern, otherwise in accordance with the attribution and non-derivation requirements? Would your answer change again if it was not a teacher, but a retailer who displayed a knit sample next to a pile of yarn for sale, and handed out cards with the pattern’s URL (not the pattern)?

The bottom line is this: if you are uncertain whether a commercial use falls within fair use or fair dealing, and you are interested in prohibiting that kind of use, seriously consider whether a CC licence is your best option. You might need to impose some other kind of licence agreement to protect your work the way you want.

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2 Responses to Read the fine print.

  1. Lia says:

    I agree, Cindy. In addition, I am not being paid for the patterns I teach. I am being paid for my skills as a teacher, and for the preparation I do for my classes.

  2. The whole thing boggles me. If I put out a free pattern and people want to knit it, that’s great. If people want to teach/help others knit it for free, that’s cool, too.

    So far, I think everyone is on the same page.

    Now, if said teacher/helper would like to be compensated for his/her time while teaching/helping, that’s a problem??? Geez. I work in a LYS and give free help all the time, but there are some knitters who need more help than others. My time is money to me since I work several different jobs (most as an independent contractor) to pay my bills. My hourly wage at the LYS is for selling and keeping things in order, not for teaching. If someone needs hand-holding through a large project, I can’t afford to do that for free (and it’s not what I’m paid to do at the shop, either). And believe me, some folks need MAJOR hand-holding.

    So it seems that at least one designer of a free pattern would like only experienced knitters to knit it, or would like experienced knitters to offer untold amounts of time, for free, to help those who are less experienced knit it.

    Seems awfully unrealistic to me. I make about $10 an hour at the shop. When I teach, I make $50 per student for a series of six, two-hour classes. That’s $4.16 per hour, per student. The shop makes $5 per student and gives them a 10% discount on materials. No one is getting rich.

    If the designer really begrudges us that little bit of compensation, then I guess he/she isn’t all that interested in having his/her pattern knit up by anyone who (a) doesn’t use the Internet — yes, there are plenty of knitters like that — (b) needs a lot of hand-holding, and/or (c) doesn’t have one or more skilled and (very) patient knitting friends to help him/her figure things out.

    Bottom line, if you want total control over any and all revenue that may be generated from use of your pattern in ANY format, maybe you should just keep it to yourself and sell finished products instead.

    Just some thoughts. Posted here because this seems the best place for a more logical approach to the matter. :)