What is “commercial use” in a Creative Commons license?

Creative Commons” by Kristina Alexanderson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The “noncommercial” option for Creative Commons licenses is popular, and many people have an intuitive understanding of what it means: “You can use my photo (with proper attribution, etc.), but you can’t make money from it.” This meaning of noncommercial could protect photographers who want their photographs to gain wide exposure, but want to ensure that they are the only ones who can, for instance, sell prints of them.

Questions can arise when different parties have different interpretations of “commercial use.” Creative Commons itself says that noncommercial means “not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or monetary compensation,” adding that this definition is “intent-based” and “intentionally flexible.” This allows for a large grey area. Most people would probably agree that selling prints of a photograph is commercial use. Most people would probably agree that posting a photo on a personal blog is not commercial use. However, what about if the blog earns some money through advertising? There are many projects where it is unclear whether the primary intent is monetary compensation. Another question arises when the distinction between commercial use and editorial use is applied.

Photographers should be aware that this grey area exists, and consider that using a Creative Commons Noncommercial license may result in others using their photographs in questionably “noncommercial” contexts. For further information, consult the Creative Commons guide to interpretation of “noncommercial” and their report on how the online population views the term “noncommercial.”

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