why i don't like noncommercial licenses

when picking a Creative Commons license, did you ever stop to think about what "NonCommercial" even means? what defines the boundary of commercial usage? because it turns out that nobody's really figured out a good answer to that question. sure, it's obvious that selling prints of a photo is commercial usage, but what about printing copies of it for someone? selling a song on a CD is commercial, but what about playing it on the speakers at a café? what if an influencer uses it in a video, and also accepts donations? it's hard to define for sure where this metaphorical line lies, especially because not very many people have taken this sort of issue to court yet.

but even with that legally dubious can of worms, i think there's a bigger problem with noncommercial licenses, and it boils down to a combination of effects they cause.

remember that most people try to avoid getting into legal trouble when they can. if they can avoid being sued, they'll try to do that. therefore, if someone doesn't know if they can legally use something or not, they're just not going to use it. they're going to find something else they can use for sure instead; whether that is a freely licensed thing, or something they have pay to use. this indirectly leads to a sort of chilling effect, where people will purposefully avoid things under a noncommercial license, even if they probably would be allowed to use it.

of course, not all people are like that. some people are stealing assholes who take whatever they want, whether or not they're legally allowed to do so. of course, you could try to send a legal threat to these sorts of people, but they could be located in a jurisdiction that doesn't care about your copyright, or perhaps they just have more money to waste in court over stupid bullshit. even if you seemingly shut them down, they'll likely just make a new company name and keep going making crappy knockoffs of your thing anyways.

these two factors combined lead to noncommercial licenses being pretty much useless; they make it so honest people will avoid what you make, while they do nothing to prevent thieves. in a way, they act as the worst of both worlds between free licenses and full copyright protection.

“A lock does no more than keep an honest man honest.”

― Robin Hobb, Assassin's Quest

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