Non-commercial licenses and university courseware

Lately I have been toying with the marginal use of content licensed for non-commercial purposes in my courses. Such content includes flickr images, YouTube videos, and so on. The Open University interprets non-commercial to include the use of content as part of a course for which you charge an admission fee.

My own interpretation would be more restrictive. I consider my use of such resources to be non-commercial because:

  • my courseware is freely available, and even indexed by Google: while students pay to enter the corresponding course, they clearly do not pay to access the Web site;
  • the Web site does not contain ads;
  • the Web site is not used to promote a product;
  • the Web site is not used to promote a service (it may happen that a student would choose to enroll in the course after checking out the Web site, but the site is not designed with this purpose in mind).

Downes‘ position seems to go along my intuition:

The ONLY thing that differentiates commercial and noncommercial use is that commercial use consists of blocking people from using things.

Wikipedia has its own spin:

A non-commercial enterprise is work that values other considerations above and beyond that of making a profit. It differs from a non-profit enterprise in that seeking a profit is a part of their business, just not the main part.

(If I read Wikipedia’s definition right, a non-profit enterprise is automatically a non-commercial enterprise.)

In case the University ever calls me up to ask me to pull out these resources, I would like to have some references or arguments to support my point of view. More seriously, I am thinking about relying more on such content in the future. Can you help me build my case?

To be clear, my problem is not with the need to pay or negotiate licenses per se. The University has staff to handle these chores and it has money to spend on IP. But if I have to ask for permission each and every time I use such content, I will simply link to the resource with a bona fide hyperlink. It is faster for me, though not as nice for the student.

Daniel Lemire, "Non-commercial licenses and university courseware," in Daniel Lemire's blog, November 6, 2007.

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Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

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