I think the inverse of What do I need to share if I include CC-BY-SA artwork in my software?.

Some webpages, such as Code for America are licensed under CC-BY-SA. If I want to adapt the code for this web page to host copyrighted content which cannot be redistributed, can I? Is it possible to retain the CC license for the template but have a separate copyright clause for the written content?

  • My goal is more in line with FreeRadical's answer: aggregating the template of the website with my content. But Mnementh's answer serves as a warning to someone attempting what he considers in his answer to be a derivation of a web page's content.
    – raphael
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 16:18

2 Answers 2


Yes (provided I've understood the question correctly).

Here is the question:

If I want to adapt the code for this web page to host copyrighted content which cannot be redistributed, can I?

If you look inside the GitHub archive, you'll find the entire site there. All of it (markup and its existing contents) is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.

Since this is a copyleft license, you're allowed to adapt it. So whatever you reuse from that site (HTML, CSS, Javascript, images, decorations, etc.) must be made available under CC-BY-SA. Whatever you're left with after doing this is your website template. To simplify things, you may want to create a fork on GitHub and make it clear that the template in this fork is a derivative of the Code for America repo, and that it is made available under CC-BY-SA 2.0.

However, after going through this process you can download your fork from GitHub. You can then proceed by adding your own contents to it. Since this original contents is not derived from anything in the Code for America repo, it is not a derivative work, and you're not obliged to license this original content under CC-BY-SA.

And to expand the answer a little, this not only applies to CC-BY-SA, but to all copyleft licenses I am aware of.

This again boils down to the legal definition of "derivative work".

The contents you place on a web-page does not make the composite (template + contents) a derivative of the template. The reason is that the template and the contents does not require each other to function. You could replace your contents with some other contents, and the template would still work. You could use some other template to display your content, and it would still be the same contents.

Just for the record, I have discussed a similar situation with the FSF, where the use case was a template available under the GNU GPL, and a client wanted to be sure that his proprietary images was not "infected" by the GPL virus. This was the reply from the FSF:

It is the position of the FSF that if a work licensed under the terms of the GNU GPL isn’t dependent on a particular image in any way, that is, the software would effectively function identically with any other image, then the image could be considered as being distributed in mere aggregation with the work. (Source: Private communication.)

(While this is about the GNU GPL and not the CC-BY-SA, I think it is applicable, as the "ShareAlike" provisions of the CC is very similar to the "Copyleft" of the FSF licenses.)

In legal terms, this low level of functional integration between the two means that the composite is not a derivative, but a "mere aggregate". Even strong copyleft licenses, such as the GNU GPL, does not make the copyleft license of a template or CMS apply to the content that is published with the help of the template or CMS.

This also applies in the physical world. If you write a novel, your publisher will probably hire a graphical designer to create the cover art, decide on page format, fonts, etc. Your novel, however, will not be a derivative of the graphical designer's artwork - and vice versa.

  • 1
    I wouldn't be following this advice without hiring a good lawyer to confirm that I'm doing the right thing. I'd probably go with one of these lawyers: wiki.creativecommons.org/CC_Friendly_Lawyers Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 9:01
  • 2
    @AbhiBeckert, this is a Q&A site, not a place to get professional legal advice. If somebody wants professional advice, they should hire a lawyer (then you can sue him/her if what you're told turns out to be wrong). However, the separation between content and publishing platform is well established. Using a template with a some copyleft license is a very common thing. I know of no single instance where the owner of the template has demanded that copyleft must apply to content on a site using such a template, and prevailed. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 9:39
  • But in this case there is no "template" there is an entire website posted to github with no mention at all of it being intended to be used on other websites. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 10:14
  • @AbhiBeckert: The license (CC-BY-SA 2.0) permits reuse, so the intent behind posting it on GitHub is obviously to allow reuse (including reuse on other websites). The license also permits adaptation, so you can make an adaptation that gets rid of all the original content. Whatever remains is a template and this template must of course be used under CC-BY-SA 2.0. However, when adding original content to this site, this original content is a mere addition to the site, and the result is a mere aggregate, not an adaptation. Therefore, you don't have to apply CC-BY-SA to your original content. Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 11:17
  • Very detailed answer, and you correctly guessed my intent. Should I edit the question for greater clarity?
    – raphael
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 16:20


Interesting, seeing Free Radicals answer that comes to a complete different conclusion.

He writes:

This again boils down to the legal definition of "derivative work".

And I agree with that.

To be clear, here my assumption on what you do planning to do: You want to take the HTML-code and CSS and probably some images from 'Code for America' and replace the content with your own. I think the integration of your written content with the HTML of Code for America is forming a derivative work and therefore the Share-Alike clause would be triggering.

To err on the safe side you might ask Code for America about this and respect their wishes.

  • 2
    If you think the combination of the content and the HTML forms a derived work, how would it then be possible for the content here on SE to be copyleft (CC-BY-SA), but the HTML of the site itself not? Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 9:06
  • @BartvanIngenSchenau: Interesting point, although it could be argued that all contributors have with their post agreed to the terms of the site and so consented to that usage. That would mean, if someone takes the data-dump of SE and creates another site with it with proprietary HTML it would be in violation of the CC-license.
    – Mnementh
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 9:09

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