I would like to share many song/poetry/lyric works. I would like to share them as freely as possible, allowing modifications, use of small pieces or lines or concepts, etc.. I want to encourage commercial use of the material, but I would like to have the right to get a cut of any commercial proceeds. I have perused the Creative Commons licenses and it seems the choice is between allowing commercial use with no compensation, or simply not allowing it. Is there some sort of licensing choice that lies somewhere in between?

  • I'm of the opinion we allow professional questions for creators, and songwriters fall into our purview. IMHO, asking about licensing is on-topic and of interest to professions. (@rolfedh, et all - if this is something we aren't agreed on, I'd be happy to open a Meta topic - let me know what you think.)
    – Standback
    Feb 6, 2016 at 22:26
  • @Standback I've withdrawn my close vote.
    – rolfedh
    Feb 7, 2016 at 3:55
  • @Standback - I think this falls under the meta thread about legal questions, meaning it's currently on-topic. Unless there's something newer that my searching missed. But this is an awfully broad policy and it's from over five years ago. Feb 10, 2016 at 5:09
  • 1
    You can dual-license. For example, use CC-BY-NC for non-commercial use, and some other license for commercial use. The choice of which license(s) to offer is up to you as the copyright holder. Just be careful about derived works, as those would presumably be under the CC-BY-NC license offer from you, which can open a can of worms.
    – user
    Mar 10, 2016 at 23:10

5 Answers 5


If you license something, you're giving people the freedom to use it under certain conditions (eg, for noncommercial purposes). That doesn't mean someone who wants to use it for commercial purposes can't do so—but they'll have to contact you first and negotiate a separate licence.

If you want, you could add an explicit commercial licence, but you'd have to state the prices and terms, and they should work for everyone, from the old lady who wants to use your poem in her home-printed poetry journal going to 90 subscribers, as well as for Disney who want to use your poem in their latest blockbuster.

  • So, perhaps the actual licensing language is limited in what it can convey, and one could include some sort of statement with their work - something like "although the license under which this material is published does not allow for commercial uses, I wish to encourage commercial uses, or attempts at commercial usage. If income is generated from the use of the material, I would like to receive a fair share of revenues."
    – lalalarry
    Feb 7, 2016 at 15:32
  • 3
    You could simply say, "If you wish to licence this work for commercial use, contact..." and give your contact info. That way, the person wanting to use it commercially knows where to go. Every case will be different. A common situation is that someone likes your poem and wants to use it on a web page which earns a small income in advertising. In cases like this, sharing income is usually more fuss than it's worth to administer and you're better off giving a free licence to get exposure. Feb 7, 2016 at 20:11

I hope this provides you with an idea of how this works.

My production company provides event photography which we currently shoot and provide digital photos under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

We used to keep ALL RIGHTS RESERVED but that meant clients broke the license by sharing photos online. So we changed it rather than risk our rights by not enforcing them.

So our licensing page now states:

Some event photography by Dreamspinner Media is licensed under Creative 
Commons BY-NC-SA, your booking agreement will state if this is the case
with a section like this below.

Creative Commons License
Event photographs by Paul Zagoridis/Dreamspinner Media is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.

Permissions beyond the scope of this license are available at

Contact us using the comment form below for additional licensing enquiries.

Editors feel free to obfuscate the url if it breaches the self-promotion guidelines of this site. It's in there to show that you MUST have contact details in your CC license.

So what that means is the photos can be used, changed and rereleased provided there is

  1. attribution to the source (me)
  2. the derived works are similarly licensed and attributed
  3. Non-commercial

So if a photograph is used by a media outlet, they should obtain an appropriate license from me. If they don't they can't claim they just grabbed it from the public domain.


When you wrote the lyrics down, you established a copyright on those lyrics. Nobody can legally use them for commercial purposes without your permission. That is what copyright means. They have to get a license from you, you don’t have to give one to them.

So the Creative Commons license that seems to you to be missing is not needed because that is the default license. That is the one that existed before Creative Commons. The one that everybody already has.

The Creative Commons licenses give you other options that not everybody needs. It sounds like you probably don’t need them.

So just publish your work in such a way that it includes a copyright notice and also contact info so that the reader can contact you for a commercial use license.


You could license your lyrics for a percentage royalty (instead of say, for a flat fee).

That is to say, if the licensee gets nothing, you get nothing, but if some licensee "gets lucky," you get your percentage. That's only fair.

  • The problem with percentage royalty is that it gets complicated when the work gets incorporated as a minor part in a larger work. For example, I create an anthology collection with 200 works for 1% royalty each and release the whole as a combined work. Then I would pay twice as much in royalties than I have revenue, no matter how much I charge. Well, you could say "each work is just 0.5% of the whole, so each one gets 0.005%", but that doesn't represent that some works might be more important for the whole work than others.
    – Philipp
    Jul 17, 2016 at 12:26
  • @Philipp: That's not a perfect system. But better than nothing.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 17, 2016 at 21:15

I have a practical problem with much of music licensing.

I sing with a Barbershop chorus, and with a couple of quartets. All of this is "non-profit", but it is not "non-commercial". We get paid for gigs, which give us a percentage of our yearly operating revenue.

I don't have a problem with buying music, or paying BMI when we have a show, or paying ASCAP an annual fee for using music -- actually we do all of there to have rights to sing almost anything.

If you have a song we want to arrange to sing, I need to know who to contact. I need to know what your procedure is for granting a license to arrange. When I have the arrangement, I need to know who to pay when I make copies of that arrangement for my singers. I need to know if the performance fees are included in the fees we pay to BMI and ASCAP, or if we have an additional liability to you.

This can be a maze that is hard for a volunteer, non-profit, but not non-commercial organization to work through.

I hope this gives you a framework within which you can find an answer that will serve your need, and ultimately the needs of thousands of small performers everywhere.

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