Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Copyleft Licensing Should Permit Commercial Use

Written by johnleemk on 2:54:17 pm Feb 23, 2007.

In the past, I have written on the effects of the information revolution. The democratisation of information is a trend I view positively, and I hope we will begin to see a proliferation of free (as in speech, not in beer) content. However, I think this is being somewhat stunted by the number of people who opt to use non-commercial copyleft licences.

You may find this odd, but when you ban all commercial uses of your work, you effectively ban the following people from using it:

I won't go into the details, but obviously drawing a line between exploitation and legal commercial use is very difficult. The result is that most, if not all, non-commercial licences simply ban all commercial uses, to the detriment of legitimate users who we might not consider commercial, but are considered commercial by the law.

I found a very interesting screed explaining why if you want to copyleft your work, it is imperative that you choose a sharealike licence instead of a non-commercial licence. Sharealike licences force downstream users to use the same free licence for their derivative works that rely on your work. In other words, if they take your photo, fine - but they have to licence their work with the same licence as your photo.

As a result, exploitation is much more difficult, but people with legitimate uses should have no problem using the content. It's win-win, except for the big faceless profit-seeking corporation.

Several Malaysian bloggers, like Jeff Ooi and __earth, license their work under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike licence. This means their work cannot be used by Wikipedia, etc. If you don't understand why, a real example here: if a company wants to distribute DVDs of Wikipedia and charge for it, it can only do it with a licence that permits commercial usage. However, this is surely a legitimate use!

The problem is so apparent that __earth himself uploads images of his choice to Wikipedia using other copyleft licences that allow commercial use, like the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence. Hopefully more people will soon realise that if you want to set your information free, you can't do it in half-measures.

(If you're wondering why I don't license my works under a copyleft licence, it's because I don't believe there's information worth redistributing in them. Seriously. They're all opinion pieces.)

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