Libre knowledge/discussion topics/cc-by vs cc-by-sa

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This page is intended as a response to those in the "open" camp promoting cc-by as the "most open" Creative Commons license. Cc-by might be the "least restrictive" (or "most permissive") but it is not the most pro-freedom (cc-by-sa is). A preponderance of cc-by resources (mostly emanating from well-meaning "open" communities) may encourage business models which profit by enclosing cc-by cultural works, creating artificial scarcity.

For now, we capture strands of this conversation which crop up from time to time in various places.

YouTube and CC-BY

Recently (early June 2011) YouTube started supporting CC-BY as a license option for uploaded videos. A discussion ensued on the Creative Commons blog (YouTube launches support for CC BY and a CC library featuring 10,000 videos) in which the question was raised:

"why cc-by and not other Creative Commons licenses such as cc-by-sa)?

Here are some thoughts:

Perhaps they (e.g. the owners of certain popular search engines and partner/clients wanting to make profits via non-libre resources) want to create mixes of cc-by resources (likely via tools which automate parts of the process such as finding the cc-by resources, attributing, translating, summarising, ...) and sell these derived works (or licenses to access them) under restrictive terms - with no obligation to share enhancements freely (as in freedom) with society (i.e. not in the spirit of free culture as probably intended by the well meaning creators of "open" cc-by resources).

Incorporating cc-by resources into cc-by-sa and other libre copyleft mixes (as many "open" culture advocates suggest) is too late. Using cc-by leads to a situation that is in'de-fence'able (sorry, the stable door expression does not work here). The enclosed/restricted mixes, having absorbed the best of the cc-by free cultural works, may easily come to dominate (e.g. they will be the first found via certain search engines, and used for convenience by users who don't understand the implications for a free culture, libre knowledge society and for sustainability).

To protect and grow the commons (and pre-empt such enclosure), use CC-BY-SA to ensure we (the free culture and libre knowledge society) continue to be able to participate in enhancing the cultural and knowledge resources which are key to sustainability in the planetary sense (embracing global social, economic and biophysical interdependencies).

On sustainability:

A preponderance of cc-by resources emanating from "open" communities, encourages business models based on restricted enclosures of cultural resources - product-based, selling access to non-rivalrous resources (with artificial scarcity inducing people to pay). A lot of money can be made this way, selling the same (or automatically generated variations of) such restricted digital resources over and over again, easily covering any initial investment but returning nothing to the free and open communities who created the foundation materials and doing nothing in terms of social, economic, knowledge and digital divides.

A preponderance of cc-by-sa resources on the other hand would encourage services-based business models which are more sustainable in the deep sense - i.e. not by selling non-rivalrous resources (e.g. digital copies and access/ licenses to use closed <artificially scarce> resources) while consuming rivalrous resources (e.g. food, fossil fuels, ...) through their profits and generating waste. i.e. cc-by-sa leads to livelihoods based on selling services and know-how (productive time) such as translation, localisation, custom packaging, learning design innovation, training, support, distribution, etc.). Cc-by-sa also ensures freedom for society to continue participating in adapting and sharing the world's knowledge and cultural resources which is key to sustainability (in the global holistic sense - see

Pro-choice vs Pro-freedom

The table below re-presents one of the roots of this discussion (from Open Content Licensing/Project plan).

  • To maximise reuse, develop materials using the Creative Commons Attribution Resource --Wayne Mackintosh 06:15, 10 September 2010 (UTC)
I would say that those who say they truly wish to maximize reuse should be advised to develop materials using a public domain dedication and/or Creative Commons CC0 waiver. --SteveFoerster 02:30, 26 October 2010 (UTC)
Is "maximising reuse" the goal? Or, do we still need to grow the commons, incentivise contribution/participation and support the values associated with open education and libre knowledge? See discussion exercise which favours CC-BY-SA. - Kim Tucker 13:35, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
Hi Kim, I think both perspectives are valid and can easily be accommodated in the spirit of modelling freedom of choice, namely giving free choice to creators to decide whether they wish to respect the freedoms for downstream remixers or the future freedoms of the content (commons). Once the course materials are completed -- its is easy enough to re-license a digital copy of the materials under a copyleft alternative and in this way we are able to meet the needs of both sides of the free cultural works spectrum. --Wayne Mackintosh 23:17, 5 November 2010 (UTC)
  • Best not to dictate license choice, provide resources, case study reflections to assist educators in making an informed choice --Wayne Mackintosh 06:15, 10 September 2010 (UTC)

The topic was continued here (postings by Kim Tucker) wrt "its is easy enough to re-license a digital copy of the materials under a copyleft alternative ..."

.... You could do that, but it would be too late. Using CC BY (or CC0) leads to a situation that is inde'fence'able (sorry, the stable door analogy doesn't work): the resources may be enclosed (with access and usage restrictions) and these non-libre versions may later dominate the education space. i.e. the cc-by resources of the OER community become the foundation content of education enclosures.

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Continue and expand this discussion with your peers, etc. and add links and insights to this page.


Another quote from the WSIS debate:

In the current situation, with copyright law as it is, CC-BY-SA is the most "pro-freedom" license in common usage (e.g. Wikipedia, WikiEducator, LeMill, ...). I suggest more people use it and the OER leaders start promoting CC-BY-SA as the "pro-freedom" license.
That is not to say that we should stop using CC-BY. A dual strategy is in order. CC-BY resources will be drawn into the enclosures and in turn draw people out of them. If you value a free culture and freedom to learn, use CC-BY-SA, especially if you have produced something really special.

For free software the strategy was to use LGPL for libraries which already exist as non-free software (to grow the user base of free software and perhaps attract new free software developers) and to use the GPL for new libraries which are unique to free software. More recently, ... (see Why you shouldn't use the Lesser GPL for your next library).

Related Pages


  • How 'viral' is the anti-DRM clause in CC licenses?
    • e.g. Potentially more-so in CC BY-SA than CC BY?

Additional (External) Resources

The following are useful for understanding the background to this discussion.