I'm looking at the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license.

It says that I can use it for "non-commercial purposes".

What does that mean? I see in Stack Exchange, under Network Profile there is that graph that tracks your points across your Stack Exchange accounts. It uses a control called HighCharts which have a paid and Creative Commons licensed version.

So would Stack Overflow constitute a commercial site? We don't pay to use this site, but obviously the site makes money from ads, etc.

Then again, there's a lot of sites that have ads who won't necessarily make a profit, it may only be subsiding their costs. But even then, you could argue that even if it is only subsiding their costs, a lot of IT companies run at a loss in order to build a big enough customer base.

So where is the line here? Is it any website on the internet? Is it any website that has ads? Is it any website that turns over a profit?

  • 4
    Why not just tell them what you're planning to use it for, and ask them if they're OK with it? That way you are sure. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect the wording is vague on purpose so that the creators can decide on edge cases like these.
    – marinus
    Commented Jul 9, 2011 at 9:56
  • Chances are, if you are working for a corporation it's commercial. I believe this applies to StackOverflow. Individual use, education and non-profit organizations (501c3 in America) are typically not commercial. There are some fuzzy lines that will vary by jurisdiction in between those extremes. One of those fuzzy lines includes government--technically they are not for profit, but many contracts treat them as a commercial entity. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


If your looking for the legal definition then this source (US law) states:

According to 18 USCS § 31, term "used for commercial purposes" means the carriage of persons or property for any fare, fee, rate, charge or other consideration, or directly or indirectly in connection with any business, or other undertaking intended for profit.

  • 4
    This definition is only considered relevant in the restriction field of the particular code it was written for, which is to say safety regulations for aircraft. Using the definition outside of that field is not likely to have any particular legal standing.
    – Jules
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 16:47
  • so if i am in a business renaming folders and decided to use a tool that was free for home and charged for commercial, would that mean that i am to buy the commercial version of the tool? Or since this is not related to any transaction i should be safe? Commented Jul 17, 2019 at 12:52

The web site tells you what they mean by "commercial": Creative Commons link. It's commercial if it is "primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or monetary compensation."


Whether or not a company makes money is irrelevant to the question of it being a "commercial purpose"

Yes even a non-profit ad supported site might be considered a commercial purpose. (however generally creative commons license allow for non-profit use)

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