Creative Commons:
So what is 'commercial use'?


What's the point?

How to licence your content

How to use Creative Commons content

What determines 'commercial use'?

What does 'sharealike' mean?

What kind of content is available?

Why worry about copyright in the first palce?

Sources of Creative Commons-licenced content

The final word

One of the most basic restrictions you'll see with content covered by a Creative Commons license is the non-commercial clause.

This is a legal definition, so it is simple enough to find out exactly what that means. Well, simple in one sense. The definition of commercial use is broad, covering more than just obvious 'profit-making' uses. In practise, the term is equivalent to income-generating use of any kind, whether direct or indirect. If you use content for general research, even if not for any specific purpose, and you or your organisation generates income, that counts as commercial use. So does using content for pro-bono work (from the Latin pro bono publico, meaning 'for the public good', or working for free), if it also enhances your reputation or leads to income-generating work in any way whatsoever.

Basically, if there's as much as a sniff of commercial interest in what you're doing then it counts as commercial use. There's also no such thing as fair use in commercial contexts any more. A European Union directive passed in 2001 was finally made law in Britain in October 2003, and this put paid to the 'fair use' clause which allowed 'small' portions of a work to be copied for commercially-related purposes. This is still allowed for non-commercial work. Further information can be found in the British Library's copyright FAQ, found at

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