In the surplus of digital content creation and sharing, Creative Commons (CC) licenses have emerged as a beacon of flexibility and collaboration. These licenses allow creators to retain control over their works while granting others the permission to use, remix, and build upon their creations. However, among the various types of CC licenses, the NonCommercial (NC) restriction and the ShareAlike (SA) condition tend to be stumbling blocks for many, including both newcomers and seasoned users.

I have consistently grappled with both categories, especially when I develop fresh educational materials using a blend of content published under Creative Commons with NC and SA conditions. Fortunately, I had the chance to delve deeper into this area in the Creative Commons Certificate course. In this blog, I’ll explain how NC and SA work within the realms of academia and learning design.

NonCommercial for academics at UTS

When choosing a Creative Commons license for the first time, it’s important to understand the NonCommercial (NC) restriction. This restriction means that others can use your educational material, remix it, or build upon it, but they cannot use it for commercial purposes without your explicit permission. For example, they can’t use it as part of a journal article that sits behind a paywall. Commercial purposes generally involve making money, whether directly or indirectly, from the use of your work.

Here’s an example of NC license use:

Dr. Ashley Miller, an Environmental Science coordinator at UTS, is creating a Canvas module about the impact of climate change on marine ecosystems. She wants to include a coral reef image to enhance understanding. She finds a vibrant Creative Commons Non-Commercial (NC) licensed image. After confirming that educational use is allowed, she proceeds to use it in her module.

Now Ashley has decided to license the module under a CC BY-NC license. This means that others can share and even modify it, but they can’t use it to sell products, services, or any other commercial venture without asking for Ashley’s approval.

It’s important to consider whether you’re comfortable with others using your work for non-commercial purposes only, as this choice might limit some potential uses.

ShareAlike for learning designers at UTS

If you’re new to using Creative Commons licenses, understanding the ShareAlike (SA) condition is crucial. When you apply a CC license with the ShareAlike condition, you’re essentially saying that anyone who builds upon or remixes your work must also license their new creation under the same or a compatible license.

Let’s say you write a thought-provoking blog for LX site and decide to license it under a CC BY-SA license. This means that if someone wants to use your article as a basis for their own work – for example, an H5P module – they must also release their module under a CC BY-SA license. This helps ensure that knowledge is carried forward, creating a chain of freely accessible and adaptable content.

It’s important to recognise that if you choose the CC BY-SA license, it might influence how others can use your work in the future, as it enforces a certain level of openness and collaboration in the derivative works.

Consider how this could work for an illustration or artwork:

When blending two works to create something new, the resulting creation should respect the combined licenses. For instance, if “image1” by “author1” is a derivative of “image2” by “author2” (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), and “image3” (modified) by “author3” (licensed under CC BY 2.0) is involved, the final work must adhere to the licenses, collectively governed by CC BY-NC-SA.

ShareAlike – a license-repellent recipe

Another challenge is the remixing of a BY-SA work and a BY-NC-SA work. Suppose a colleague is working on creating a new educational resource by combining a text licensed under CC BY-SA and images from a work under CC BY-NC-SA. The intention here is to create a comprehensive and informative resource that can be freely shared and built upon by others.

However, this combination presents a challenge due to the different SA clauses of the licenses. While both licenses require derivatives to be shared under the same SA terms, the specific restrictions clash when dealing with BY-SA and BY-NC-SA licenses together. In essence, the SA condition of the BY-NC-SA license conflicts with the SA condition of the BY-SA license, making it impossible to seamlessly integrate the two works within a single derivative.

This sheds light on an important consideration when choosing a license. The choice to license content under SA, whether it’s BY-SA or BY-NC-SA, should be approached with caution, especially when working on Open Educational Resources (OER). The potential conflicts between SA clauses can limit the ability to remix and adapt content as intended, ultimately affecting the openness and collaborative potential of the resources.

What other challenges do you foresee in using NC and SA based on the explanations provided?

Feature image by Anastasiya Romanova

Join the discussion