Last month, we discussed an interesting dispute between AOL's TechCrunch and People+, a startup that helps Silicon Valley professionals connect, in a semi-creepy, Google Glass-enabled world. People+ used TechCrunch's CrunchBase database to pull the contact information needed for their competing product.
Because CrunchBase licensed its content via the Creative Commons Attribution [CC BY] license, it was all legal, as the license only requires attribution back to CrunchBase. Except AOL also had other, more restrictive, terms of service on the API (software pipeline) used to access the data.
Conflicting licenses led to a legal conflict. Fortunately, the conflict was short-lived, as the parties have come to a resolution that should make both sides happy.
You can understand AOL's frustration, right? They allow the public to access their database, and someone comes along and uses it to build a competitor. Then again, they chose the CC BY license. People+ relied upon that license, so asking them to pull the data from their product was also unreasonable, wasn't it?
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented Pro Populi, the company behind People+, the parties have settled the dispute. People+ gets to keep any data that they have already pulled, but the pipeline closes now, at least for them. AOL is changing the CrunchBase's license to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license (CC BY-NC), which requires licenses for commercial uses only.
Creative Commons Licenses, In Brief
Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization, provides an invaluable service to content producers on the web. Instead of leaving content unprotected, or hiring lawyers to write overly restrictive terms unique to each website, song, or blog post, creators can choose one of six CC copyright licenses to govern use, remixing, or republishing of their work:
- CC BY (Attribution): Use, distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work, so long as credit is given to the original creator.
- CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike): The same terms as CC BY, but all derivative works have to carry the same license.
- CC BY-ND (Attribution-NoDerivs): Redistribution, commercial or non-commercial, is okay (with attribution). Making any changes is not.
- CC BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial): The same terms as CC BY, but only for non-commercial uses.
- CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike): Use, distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the original work, so long as there is attribution, the use is non-commercial, and the derivative content is also licensed as CC BY-NC-SA.
- CC BY-NC-ND (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs): Use, download, and share, with attribution, but no changing the work and no commercial use.
The benefit of using a CC license are the clear, near-universal, widely-used terms, and the ability to maximize distribution of your work, especially if one of the least restrictive licenses is employed.
Of course, as AOL saw, choosing an accommodating license, such as CC BY, can lead to a competitor pulling and using your content. Creative Commons has a tool that helps content creators choose the correct license, minimizing the possibility that non-lawyers will be confused by legal terminology.
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