Alternatives to private copyright licensing

Copyright is a well-established form of intellectual property. It provides rules for how an original work can and cannot be treated by someone other than its owner. Private licensing agreements between a copyright owner and a specific potential user are often used to govern how a particular work can be used and commercialised.

Alternatively, by choosing from a range of pre-determined licences, a copyright owner can give the general public access to the work while still maintaining some control over it. These public licences fall into two main categories - creative commons and open source.

Deciding whether to release (or use) a work under one of these public licences will usually depend on the nature of the work and your preferred business model.

Creative commons (CC) licences


There are six pre-determined licences. You can stipulate and clearly identify any one of them to let people know how your original work can be used. They all require users to credit you for the original creation (attribution). Beyond that, the various licences offer combinations of whether or not your work can be shared in a changed form, for commercial gain, and/or under a different type of licence to the one you chose. Each licence is identified by a descriptive visual label. Here are two examples:

Attribution – NonCommercial - ShareAlike

This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms.

Attribution – NonCommercial - NoDerivs

This licence is the most restrictive, allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but without changing them in any way or using them commercially.

The New Zealand Government has embraced CC licensing. The New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework provides guidance for agencies releasing copyright works and non-copyright material for re-use by others. It aims to standardise the licensing of government copyright works for re-use by others by using CC licences, and recommends clear statements for non-copyright material.

Open source licences


These licences grant users permission to use open source works (usually software) for any purpose. They’re often termed ‘permissive’ because developers are permitted maximum freedom to use, study, modify, and distribute the works. The licence does not restrict any party from selling or giving away the work or its derivatives, typically so long as the source code is included. However, further restrictions may be stipulated and there are often unique restrictions for different open source works.

Copyleft is a subset of open source licensing. It stipulates that any modified or extended version of the original work must be released, along with the source code, and identified as ‘copyleft’. In this sense, copyleft is reciprocal and similar to the ‘sharealike’ condition of CC licences. This is intended to provide maximum access and rights to all end users, rather than just developers.

Open source projects do not necessarily exclude the opportunity for profit. For example, developers may still consider monetising by: software as a service (sometimes referred to as OpenSaaS); extra paid support or consultant services; extra paid features or functionalities; or dual licensing models, whereby both open source and commercial or proprietary software are released for different purposes within the same project.

If you would like expert advice and assistance with creative commons or open source licences, please contact our team of copyright specialists today.

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