There are two interesting examples of commercial CC projects that pay for themselves. Loca Records license their music BY-SA and make money through CD sales and performances. It can be done. :-) And Elephants Dream, a short (11 minute) computer animated film, was paid for by pre-sales of DVDs (the “street performer protocol”). Elephants Dream is also a seed project, it has all the 3D files and other media needed to make a complete short film, but it is BY rather than BY-SA.
The most successful Free Culture project, one that has outperformed a proprietary alternative, is Wikipedia. It’s FDL-licensed rather than BY-SA-licensed, and it is a community project rather than a commercial project. But its use of FDL is historical, and Wikipedia does help sell a for-profit company. Wikipedia could make lots of money from adverts and from sales of DVDs and print versions, although that might affect the willingness of people to contribute.
Wikipedia is instructive in another way. It, like the GNU C compiler and Emacs, is a “seed project”. That is, it is a base project that other projects can build on. The BY-SA world is conspicuously devoid of seed projects. cc-mixter, which is BY, has acapellas and individual music tracks on, but without an FSF-style body driving the creation of work and policing the contributions, the tracks contributed to mixter may use samples from CDs that do not allow relicensing or other problem media.
There really should be a Free Music Foundation that pays session musicians an honest rate to lay down drum and guitar tracks, commissions songwriters to perform acapellas, and gets the documentation required to prove that the tracks are clean for use in other BY-SA work. They may accept contributions from commercial projects if they pass due diligence. This really is the sort of project that is needed, there are artistic and video and literary equivalents that are needed as well.
We need seed projects for BY-SA work, done with the rigor of the FSF’s work, and funded by the community (which may include commercial interests). There are non-SA projects such as Elephants Dream and Open Clipart that help, but we need BY-SA ones to build a commons.
We have realworld examples of free culture projects that pay for themselves, whether through sales and performance or through the street performer protocol. We need more people following these examples in more media. Hopefully seed projects and better education will help with this.
The problems we have are the profusion of restrictive CC licenses (imagine if the FSF had felt honor bound to release a non-commercial GPL…) that distract from copyleft, and the profusion of unfocussed “community sites” that are graveyards for media under restrictive licenses but that get a lot of publicity and goodwill.