Why we’re fighting to protect noncommercial uses

Ryan Merkley

You may have seen our recent blog post explaining Creative Commons’ involvement in a court case between Great Minds, a publisher of educational materials, and FedEx Office, the retail chain that provides on-demand copying and printing services.

To recap, Great Minds created educational materials under a U.S. federal government grant that required them to be shared under a Creative Commons noncommercial license (specifically, CC BY-NC-SA). Public school districts—those that did not have the means or resources to make the tens of thousands of copies of the publicly-funded materials needed for use in the classroom—paid FedEx Office stores to make copies of some of this material. The copies were to be used by the school districts noncommercially. Great Minds claims that because FedEx Office charged its typical fee to make these copies at the direction of the school districts for use in the classroom, it violated the CC license.

We’re following up here with a few words about why we’re getting involved in this particular case, and why we believe it’s important for us to do so. Put simply, we believe that any entity—whether it’s you or me or a public school district—should be able to pay a copy shop to make copies of a work that has been published under one of CC’s noncommercial licenses, in order to use those copies noncommercially.

We feel that Great Minds’ interpretation in this instance is wrong. We also believe that this incorrect interpretation would dramatically reduce CC’s noncommercial licenses’ usability and usefulness. It would negate what Creative Commons—and more importantly, what innumerable users in our community—believes to be true about CC’s noncommercial licenses.

All around the world, people, companies, and institutions use our noncommercial copyright licenses to make their work available to the public for noncommercial use. They do so because they want to share and allow re-use of their work. There are uses that CC licensors clearly intend to allow and that licensees clearly expect to be granted through our noncommercial licenses. We strongly believe that one of those uses is the ability to have a company like FedEx Office make copies of that content so that licensees can make their own noncommercial use.

If this sort of use is not permitted by CC’s noncommercial licenses, then, in the real world, that means that anyone wanting to make copies of the content for noncommercial use must own a printing house, or a parcel delivery service if they want to send a hard copy by mail. We do not believe that this is a reasonable expectation or interpretation of the license. To keep the commons usable for all, we felt that we had to step forward on this case to help prevent a negative outcome.

For more on this case as it develops, please keep an eye on our blog and follow us on Twitter.