One of the options of the now very popular Creative Commons licenses is the Commercial/non commercial reuse of one’s copyrighted material, the others being Attribution/non attribution (whether one’s name is attached to all future reuses), No derivatives (if one doesn’t allow the sampling, remix or partial use) and ShareAlike (if the CC license applies also tho the resulting work).
The Commercial/non commercial issue is a very delicate one, for a number of reasons. Let’s imagine I take a picture (or make some music, graphics, video, etc.) and put it online with a Attribution/Derivatives/Non commercial license. This means that whoever wants to use it has to include my credit as source, is allowed to rework it inside his/her own thing, but cannot make any commercial use of it. The definition of commercial today is very hazy, and it will become more and more so in the future. We all know that there are “free” (as in gratis) things we can get, but that they aren’t free: I watch the Daily Show online and see 3 ads (not so bad, compared to the Tv version); but no one thinks of the show as “non commercial”. Myspace is another good example: is all the music there non commercial? It certainly is free, but its purposes are in many cases healthily commercial: get gigs, find a distributions, etc. How about the “free” Shakira desktop images I can download from her website?
The main reason for denying commercial use I believe is psychological: people think that Coca Cola would steal their music, or that some smart ass designer would sell their beloved graphics to McDonalds. Naturally I’d object to that too, but this isn’t what the licence should be about: of course I should get my money if Coke uses one of my tunes in an ad (moreover, in Europe it has to get my permission as author). But, I believe, not if someone uses 2 seconds of my music in their own, or pastes some of my graphics in their designs. It has happened, and in both instances I was quite happy.
For a very selfish reason: I do that all the time, we all do it – and those who don’t, soon will. Remember the Rip, Mix and Burn claim from Apple? It was considered outrageous just a few years ago, now it’s obvious. We live in a remixing culture, and some of the very best cultural artifacts of the present are made from existing, past material. This is not just a fad, and it’s not going to go away. In our present culture, the Master (or original) is often just a starting point, a reference, much as someone else’s musical score was for 18th century composers (or pictures for painters). This is a major cultural pull, with very solid roots (in media history, for example) and a great, bright future: home video editing in broadcast quality is just happening, as the first generation of web babies (those who cannot recall their first Google search, as I don’t remember my first car ride or phone call) is turning 18.
I always liked the Lessig quote “The past is trying to prevent the future from happening”. The non commercial restriction somehow smells like that to me. When you’re a DJ, or just a music lover, you rip, mix, burn, remix, post, exchange, resample, loop, cut & paste with ardour, the same the Beatles had when they did Love Me Do. I believe their products (the product of our history and contemporary culture) should have the same chances Lennon and McCartney’s had.
This is why I’ve released most of my music with a slightly different license from the standard CC ones: if you use it as it is, you’ll have to pay me. But if you make a derivative, then all I want is attribution, and you can use it for commercial purposes. You should, in fact: the alternative is that you just keep your music for you and your family, while one golden rule that governs this type of affairs is that what goes around, comes around. The more around, the better.