Gawker Media Adds Creative Commons

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Gawker Media, owners of such blogs as Lifehacker, Gizmodo and Kotaku, has made the jump to Creative Commons, as indicated by their legal page and a post by Jeff Chandler on Performancing.

In short, all content on Gawker sites is now licensed under a Creative Commons by-nc license, making them available for any non-commercial use with attribution.

However, this move doesn’t come without some confusion and caveats. Though the Creative Commons License is displayed proudly on every site, the legal page points to some greater complexities.

Cause for Confusion

Though the license for Gawker Media content on their sites is fairly straightforward, there is a great deal of complexity and contradiction on matters of how the RSS feeds can be used.

First, there are two RSS feeds listed, truncated ones without ads and full ones that display advertising. Both, in the legal page, are displayed with a Creative Commons BY-ND license, which allows for them to be used without modification for any purpose so long as attribution is provided.

(Note: I sense that this might be an error as it is likely they intended to use a non-commercial license for the full feed as you see below.)

However, the legal page goes on to list specific requirements for using the RSS feeds, many of which theoretically contradict the Creative Commons Licenses applied to them.

The first conflict regards the full feed, which the additional terms ban from being republished on any site, under any conditions, instead, you can only use the excerpt feeds, though both are licensed under the same terms.

The second conflict centers around the inclusion of advertising. The terms set forth by Gawker says that “No content, including any advertisements or other promotional content, shall be added to the RSS feeds.” However, this statement is unclear as what it means by adding to the RSS feed and could be construed to eliminate commercial use of the feed, even though the CC license for the feeds does not have the “NC” element selected (as with the non-RSS content).

This conflict is going to add to the confusion of licensing Gawker content. However, it isn’t even the largest issue that comes with their current licensing scheme.

The Bigger Problem

All of this brings us to an even larger issue. With the RSS feeds and the site itself under different CC licenses, how is one to know under what rules to use the content? Especially considering that neither license, at this time, is displayed on the feeds themselves (the ones I checked).

Clearly, the goal of the differing licenses is to treat scrapers different than users visiting the site, but what if a human copies and pastes from the RSS feed? Does the main content license apply or the RSS one? This could have drastic implications if he’s copying the content onto a commercial blog or site.

Though the goal of CC licensing is to simplify content licensing and make it understandable and approachable for laypeople, Gawker’s system has the opposite effect.

Right now what they have is two sets of CC licenses plus a lengthy set of special requirements (though that is allowed under the CC license as it spells out the attribution/no-derivatives elements for Gawker), some of which appear to contradict the CC licenses they offered. Gawker would have made things much more simple by just crafting a well-written copyright license and posting it clearly, which appears to be what they were doing before.

It seems to be a rare case where introducing CC into a licensing mix may have actually made things worse for those seeking to use their content.

Fixing the Problem

What all of this illustrates is that, when it comes to licensing your content, there needs to be one unified license. Whether it is “All Rights Reserved”, A Creative Commons one (as on this site) or one crafted just for your content, it is important that your terms be unified and clear.

If you have multiple licenses for the same content, even for different delivery methods, you risk causing confusion and problems.

In Gawker’s case, it would be easier if they simply offered a unified CC license that was more restrictive (such as the BY-NC-ND one) and offered exceptions for specific cases (such as screenshots and the excerpt feed). It is much easier to have one set of terms and then add exceptions than to provide completely different terms for different formats.

At the end of the day, your RSS feed has the same content, for the most part, as your site. Licensing it two different ways may be legal, but it is anything but easy to understand.

As it sits right now, I am less comfortable using Gawker content now than I was before the move. I’m hoping that much of this is just an honest mistake and will be fixed.

Otherwise, those that wish to use Gawker’s content legally may have some headaches and complicated issues to sort through.

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