While many Creative Commons licensed works are free to use and share, this is not necessarily the rule. Works can be licensed under a Creative Commons license and still be sold for profit. It really comes down to the appropriate choice of the license given what you want to achieve. As a content creator you can license your work under a non-commercial license and have a separate license to govern commercial exploitation of your work (in fact, a new protocol called CC+ enables commercial providers to use a non-commercial Creative Commons license, for example, and provide an easy guide to people who wish to make commercial use of the works under a separate license. There are sound reasons for licensing content under Creative Commons in the commercial world.
Magazine publishers may want to license their magazines under a non-commercial license to enable their readers to make copies of interesting articles and pass around to colleagues and friends without having to field and grant permission to each reader. Instead the magazine will contain details of the license and provided the readers don't distribute the articles outside the scope of the license they need never approach the publishers who, in turn, have more time to focus on the business of magazine publishing.
When it comes to creating a greater awareness of your content consider the impact of a group of fans passing around a couple songs recorded by a new band's music to their friends to copy and pass along for personal use as a promotional tool for an upcoming concert or album release. Here is another possibility: imagine being able to buy a CD and being able to legally rip the CD to your computer to play on your iPod? A Creative Commons license enables that and legalises a common practice that, at the moment, is an act of copyright infringement despite fans willingness to buy the CD and not a pirated version online.
(Photo credit: Creating Ghosts I-IV by Rob Sheridan and Tamar Levine published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 2.0 license)
The alternative rock band, Nine Inch Nails, is a pioneer in this space. They release their music online under a non-commercial Creative Commons license and provide varying pricing strategies depending on the album release and the album options. Fans can, for example, download high quality songs for free online or they can buy the same high quality songs from the band's website. The band has also made its music available for free download on BitTorrent and other peer sharing networks. You would be forgiven for thinking that no fan would pay for the music she could simply download for free but this has proven not to be the case where it counts. In fact, this has proved to be a very lucrative model for the band because its fans are determined to support the band by buying the albums even as the band makes albums available for free download online. Nine Inch Nails recently released four instrumental albums called Ghosts I to IV. The band gave fans five options on their website: nine free downloads; $5 for all the albums in high quality audio files; $10 for a two CD set and the downloads; a $75 deluxe edition including the two CDs, a DVD, a Blu-Ray disc and the downloads as well as 2 500 limited edition sets costing $300 each. The $300 sets sold out in a matter of days earning the band $750 000 from that edition alone. What was even more interesting is that the band didn't do this through a record label, it produced and published its music itself.
Nine Inch Nails released its next album, The Slip, under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial ShareAlike license. This album was made available as a free and complete download in addition to a paid physical version of the album.
Locally media companies have been using Creative Commons licenses for somewhat more humble projects which are perhaps more meaningful because they are becoming part of our daily lives in a fairly subtle way. When BMW launched its 1-series promotion a little while ago, it built Creative Commons licenses into the rules governing a video competition where fans created their own videos about the 1-series. Rather than adopting the usual approach of forcing fans to hand over their rights to their videos to BMW, BMW instead licensed the videos from the fans using a Creative Commons license.
FNB recently launched its Shine2010 website and is licensing much of its content to visitors to the site using a Creative Commons license in an effort to encourage people to share the content in their social networks and help build a greater awareness of the content on the website. (Disclosure: we were briefed to develop a legal framework for the Shine2010 website and recommended use of a Creative Commons based license framework)
JoziKids, a wonderful child focussed website, uses Creative Commons licenses to license content created by its advertisers who create listings on the website rather than trying to take ownership of the content in order to provide the listings to visitors to the site. In this way Merle Dietrich strikes a balance between being able to publish rich listings on the site and not interfere unduly in the advertiser's ability to exploit their content commercially outside the website. (Disclosure: we were similarly briefed on this website and recommended use of a Creative Commons based license framework)
Despite its reputation as the hippie-freebie alternative to restrictive copyright, Creative Commons licenses have a role to play in the commercial world where the ability to apply a license to content virtually on the fly and without the costs usually associated with customised licenses is a valuable one. The one caveat in all this is that Creative Commons licenses are not the answer to all your licensing challenges. While they are well thought out legal constructs, there are circumstances which require a custom drafted license prepared by your lawyer of choice to cater for specific needs. That being said it is certainly worth your while to consider using a Creative Commons license to license your content. These licenses better achieve the objective of stimulating creativity, innovation and content sharing while at the same time protecting creators' rights and business models.