We're building a website that allows users to find fun things to do and, among other things, to read articles about some of these things, but also to write their own.

In order to have some of these articles available when we launch, we managed to find and import a large database of similar-themed articles, many of which are well-suited for our website and are licensed under a Creative Commons license (to be specific, under BY-NC-SA).

These articles wouldn't be the primary feature of our website, just an added value for our users. Our website could therefore work even if we abandon the whole articles idea.

While our website initially won't be generating any revenue, we're hoping to at some point adopt a business model and make it sustainable, at the very least. What limits would the NonCommercial part impose on us in this case?

Which of the following would this CC content affect?

  • Generating revenue through Google AdSense
  • Generating revenue through some other paid ads
  • Generating revenue through paid ads, but keeping the article pages that are under the BY-NC-SA ad-free
  • Having a category of paid users who would be able to have some additional features (but with the articles part available to both free and paid users)
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    While not off-topic here, it may be better if this was migrated to the dedicated site Open Source. Aug 31, 2015 at 12:05
  • Is it really on-topic there? That site is dedicated to open source development projects and, apart from the software in question not being open source, this is not a software-licensing related, but rather content-licensing (i.e. it probably doesn't matter whether our product is open source or not for this specific issue).
    – fstanis
    Aug 31, 2015 at 12:19
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    Yes definitely, the site is trying to change its name so that people won't assume it's only about software. Understanding what the NonComercial clauses cover would be on-topic there. But it's on-topic here too, so where you want it answered would depend on where you think people are with the best expertise. Rather than it being migrated you could ask it a second time there if you prefer. Or not, up to you. Aug 31, 2015 at 12:22

2 Answers 2


Without creating an Atty/Client relationship or addressing your specific issue except in a hypothetical way, it is my opinion that you would need to seek specific permission (a license agreement to protect your interests) to use these articles you refer to, pursuant to the language of the NC agreement(s),as it currently disallows your use in your clearly somewhat commercial model. The language that you are "unclear" about, is pertaining to reuse in a non-commercial (non-revenue based) manner...like if you print a informative (free) pamphlet w/the information you accessed through the similarly themed NC database. You may ( I personally doubt it but anything is possible )be able to obtain the permissions, but regardless, it could not be considered non-commercial since you intend to make a profit (or at lease a self-sustaining amount of operating cost), and the entire point of the NC license is to prevent payment for access to information.

The reason I say you may be able to get a license is that if you are not charging a membership fee, but are using the information (articles) in a commercial endeavor, it is possible that the similar site does this as well, and you could come up with a reimbursement model based on percentile averages and clicks per article that originated from the other site. The reason I doubt it is that if they also get revenue from sources other than consumers of the information, it would seem you'd be in direct competition.

  • and the entire point of the NC license is to prevent payment for access to information this confused me a little - since none of our (hypothetical) revenue models would ever ask for payment for access, but rather for advertising or additional features unrelated to this content in particular, the pamphlet analogy seems, in a way, close to our intended use, as we would never be selling any information or content whatsoever.
    – fstanis
    Sep 1, 2015 at 10:38
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    Right, but under these types of licenses generally, they don't want you undercutting them either, (not trying to insult but, for lack of a better term) by using their information that was gathered through their business model to have you use it for a similar business model. They, like you, like many similar models, try to garner support from "passive" (some users, I know, would not agree w/that term) income streams like AdSense.
    – gracey209
    Sep 1, 2015 at 11:11
  • Do you know if its a “ShareAlike” license? These sometimes allow derivative or commercial uses in some situations. Creative Commons licenses require licensees to get permission to do anything with a work that the law reserves exclusively to a licensor and that the license does not expressly allow.... but a shareAlike sometime expressly allows what you are seeking, with attribution and permission.
    – gracey209
    Sep 1, 2015 at 13:32
  • Well, the license is BY-NC-SA, so I guess it is "ShareAlike" license. However, it clearly states that if I "remix, transform, or build upon the material", I need to keep the same license, presumably meaning the option you're aiming for is out of the question?
    – fstanis
    Sep 3, 2015 at 19:28
  • That language is certainly In There, but there is also usually language that allows for express permissions.
    – gracey209
    Sep 3, 2015 at 19:30

(Since this is looking rather close to looking for legal advice: "I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, don't sue my pants off".)

The relevant section of the license is this (bolding mine):

You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation, provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in con-nection with the exchange of copyrighted works.

Therefore, if you are using the content licensed under the BY-NC-SA primarily to make money, that is a breach of the license. Any more advice past that is wading seriously into legal advice.

  • 1
    Thanks - I read the license, but what's unclear to me is the following - according to this page, "The context and purpose of the use is relevant when making the determination, but no class of reuser is per se permitted or excluded from using an NC-licensed work." so, if the website itself does, in some way, earn money, but not directly through the BY-NC-SA content itself (this content is available free of charge on ad-free pages), could that still constitute as NonCommercial (and what does it depend on)?
    – fstanis
    Aug 31, 2015 at 11:29
  • Is the full license's terms on that link I sent you?
    – gracey209
    Sep 5, 2015 at 22:04

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