Tragedy of the Creative Commons

Some fundamental freedoms reserved

Creative Commons is viewed as the leading organization when it comes to promoting sharing of works. However, the truth is that most of CC licenses are actually proprietary and restrict fundamental freedoms. Under the definition of Free Cultural Works the published work is free if it is in public domain or its license gives the following freedoms:

All freedoms are equal and if any of the freedoms is not provided then the work is proprietary. Not all of the licenses published by Creative Commons give all 4 fundamental freedoms. In fact, most licenses are proprietary. Let's examine individual clauses.

NC clause

NC stands for NonCommercial and is used to prohibit commercial use. This restricts Freedoms 0 and 3. This clause is based on the assumption that if someone makes money from the published work, they are somehow harming or "stealing" from the author. This promotes the toxic concept of "intellectual property" and actively hurts the commons. More info.

ND clause

ND stands for NoDerivatives and is used to prohibit derivative works. This restricts Freedom 3. This only stifles innovation and also hurts the commons. Unlike physical objects, the modification of digital copies to not take anything away from the author. Nobody is forcing the author to delete their original copy and use the modified version. There is no such thing as "intellectual property".

Current legal tools

Here is the breakdown of current legal tools provided by Creative Commons:

Legal toolStatus
CC0Free
CC BYFree
CC BY-SAFree
CC BY-NCNC
CC BY-NC-SANC
CC BY-NDND
CC BY-NC-NDNC and ND

As you can see, only 3 out of 7 tools make the work free.

Retired legal tools

LicenseStatus
CC Public Domain DedicationFree
CC SAFree
CC NCNC
CC NC-SANC
CC NDND
CC ND-NCNC and ND
CC SamplingSee below
CC Sampling PlusSee below
CC NC Sampling PlusSee below
CC Developing NationsSee below

CC Sampling

This license allows only creation of “highly transformative” derivative works. Performing or distribution of original work is prohibited. This restricts Freedoms 0 and 2, 3.

CC Sampling Plus

This license restricts commercial distribution of verbatim copies and allows only creation of “highly transformative” derivative works. It also bans usage of original work in advertising. This restricts Freedoms 0, 2 and 3.

CC NC Sampling Plus

This license restricts any commercial use or distribution. It also allows only creation of “highly transformative” derivative works. This restricts Freedom 0, 2 and 3.

CC Developing Nations

This license is similar to CC BY but it restricts distribution only to "developing nations". This restricts Freedoms 2 and 3.

How you can help

Do not publish your works under proprietary license

This should be obvious.

Always specify the exact CC license

There are tons of sites that use "CC", "CC license" or "CC licensed" when it comes to specifying the license of the work. Using these terms conveys pretty much zero useful information because CC licenses differ wildly. Users will need to dig further to find the exact license. More importantly, this creates the confusion and leads others to believe that all CC licenses are ethical. They are not.

Contact CC and tell them to stop promoting proprietary licenses

Creative Commons is the most known organization when it comes to promoting free works. If we stop them from promoting proprietary licenses, this will educate users on the fundamental freedoms of Free Cultural Works and will prevent them from inadvertently choosing proprietary license.