The more I think about this, the more I feel that people aren’t fully processing my main concerns here. I think the concerns here about what a hypothetical average user would want are kind of irrelevant.
If I had to summarize my point it would be: NC licenses deceive users into thinking their works are contributing to the public good more than they actually are. And as such, they are best used only if presented with extensive explanation…and especially inappropriate for a default license.
Perhaps adding some externally sourced material would help.
Here is a 2011 study, specifically: Creative Commons licenses and the non-commercial condition: Implications for the re-use of biodiversity information. It is about exactly what is at stake here, the reuse of information in citizen science, in the study of biodiversity. It was published in Zookeys, a peer-reviewed open-access journal of taxonomy, phylogeny, biogeography and evolution.
Here is a quote from the summary / conclusion of this article:
…the NC licenses are also deceptive. The phrases “creative commons” and “non-commercial”, together with the strong tendency in colloquial language to (incorrectly) identify “commercial” with “profit” and “non-commercial” with “non-profit”, may suggest that releasing works under this license contributes to a “non-commercial commons” that is easily re-usable for all non-profit-minded entities. This, however, is not the case. NC licenses come at a high societal cost: they provide a broad protection for the copyright owner, but strongly limit the potential for re-use, collaboration and sharing in ways unexpected by many users:
And later on:
NC licenses should no longer be presented as an obvious or easy choice.
The article goes on to argue that the licenses be renamed.
I think, in the end, if I had one big point that I wanted to get across in this discussion, it is that the NC licenses are misleading; they’re misleading both in their name, and in their summary. This becomes even more true, given how iNaturalist has presented them. iNaturalist providing better options on signup could partially mitigate these problems, but I still see these licenses as inherently highly problematic, especially the combination of how they are named and summarized even on the CC site themselves, contrasting with the actual effect they have in the real world.
This is why I feel very uncomfortable with iNaturalist doing anything that comes across as promoting their use.
If I were in charge, I wouldn’t even allow users to select a NC license. But at a bare minimum it seems problematic for them to be the only allowed option other than all rights reserved, let alone the default choice.
And, while others have been bringing up concerns about theoretically alienating users by advocating other licenses, this choice already is alienating me, alienating in the sense that it makes me question whether iNaturalist is committed to the goals it supposedly says it is.
I remember, when I signed up and saw how heavily iNaturalist was pushing the NC license, how it was the default choice, explicitly recommended, and how it was much harder to change the license to something I considered better, all of this came together to make me think: “The people who run this site don’t seem to know what they’re doing.” and it started making me feel skeptical about whether the site was really committed to the goals it claimed to, the goals of creating a sort of public commons of biodiversity information. If iNaturalist is really committed to these goals, why would it push a deceptive license that undermines these goals while allowing users to feel like they are promoting these goals?
I understand people are human and make errors. And I can forgive this. But what I cannot do is support people digging in their heels in defense of such a deceptive license. I can respect and even defer to people’s advocacy to push things in the other direction, such as defaulting things to All Rights Reserved, and then presenting some sort of after-the-fact prompt encouraging users to open up their licensing to make their materials more useful to research and education. But I cannot see ongoing support of the NC license as anything other than misled. I understand that people have valid reasons for wanting these licenses, but I think that the people who are still advocating for them, don’t really understand their implications, particularly, the way they lead people to falsely believe that their works are available in some sort of open commons for the purpose of the public good, when in reality they are poor or limited at achieving that goal.