Gratis/Libre/5 freedoms/CC licences

Even though I work in the OER space with WikiEducator on an almost daily basis I have to admit that I continue to struggle with some of the finer bits of CC licenses and the whole balance between the various “frees”.

I think the distinction made between “free beer vs free speech” made in the  “Gratis versus libre” article from Wikipedia really helped me out quite a lot. I’m starting to think of it less like a black and white thing and more like a series of interconnected steps or like nesting dolls (or Venn diagram-like circles).

One of the problems  I’ve come across in my work on wikieducator is how to deal with some of these nesting issues: we had a screen shot created by a contractor (so he’s the author right?), on the screen was Powerpoint (so the author is Microsoft?), in the Powerpoint was a CC-BY-SA licensed photo (hoo boy! – is this guy the author?).. we’ve not really gotten a clear answer on this and it feels like we never will. What we reckon is that it was created by the contractor, we have to mention MS, and mention we’re using it for education AND say who the photo is by…

For my personal stuff (this blog, for instance) I think I’d go with Creative Commons License but I honestly am not totally sure that this is the best choice. For instance would this preclude someone quoting something I wrote here in a newspaper article?



  1. hardcorekancil

    The issue of license compatibility and who to attribute to is really tricky in some situations. In fact, the more I learn about it, the more I get confused ! Your example of the screenshot of a Powerpoint presentation showing a photo by another author could be a fine case study for a lawyer ;). Isn’t it ironic to think that CC licenses were meant to be easy to understand and use without requiring assistance from lawyers?

    Quoting is considered ‘fair use’ so a newspaper could quote you without infringing on your rights. However, a newspaper publishing a photo of yours or a full post licensed CC BY-NC is considered commercial use, hence not allowed under your chosen license – yet newspapers do this all the time apparently…

    The noncommercial clause introduces some gray areas because not everybody agrees on what constitutes commercial use. Here as well are some very tricky questions.

  2. Christina Hendricks

    Great post, Cameron–definitely some thorny issues here. I would guess, if I had to guess, that the way you’re going with the photo is the right one. But I am far from an expert here. Maybe I’ll pass this on to one of our course facilitators, who works with Creative Commons! She might have better idea. All I can think is that the person who created the image (the contractor) made the image itself, out of other parts. Those other parts should have been used with permission or open licenses (true for the photo that is CC-BY-SA, so long as the contractor also licensed his photo CC-BY-SA, I think–that’s what the SA means, right?; but I really don’t know about screenshot-ing a proprietary piece of software like PowerPoint without permission. I think maybe not?). At any rate, for your purposes, I’m guessing that the author is the contractor, and it’s up to him to have gotten the proper permissions for the parts of the image. Of course, if one feels that someone else may not have the proper permissions for what they created, then one may choose not to use the image!

    As for CC-BY-NC and newspaper quotes, I agree with @hardcorekancil. I also agree with her that what constitutes “commercial use” is a pretty difficult thing to define, and sometimes people are overly cautious and therefore won’t use things that they might actually be able to use. For example, my blog is hosted by my university ( The university technically makes money from student tuition and fees. My blog is also aggregated on a university page that is supposed to showcase the university in numerous ways ( see “contributors’ list,” then “learning”). All this is just to say that there is an interpretation under which UBC is using my and many other blogs to attract students and donations. So to make money. So there’s an interpretation under which my blog is “commercial.” It may seem far fetched, but the thing is, “commercial” is just not clear. Here’s a post I’ve found useful on this point:

    Section 7 of this booklet argues that what NC does, Share Alike (SA) might do better, which is an interesting point:

    Some food for thought…these are really complex issues, and there are some good arguments on all sides, I think.

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