I am working with a very large JSON dataset licensed CC-BY-SA. I only need parts of this dataset, and some of the JSON field names are not especially descriptive, so I am re-naming them.

The text of the data will not be altered in any way. Does this count as "transformation" under the Share-Alike provision?

I am doing this work for a nonprofit that wants to make an API to share the data in a more user-friendly way. The source data is tricky to parse/use because of the large raw files and unfriendly markup. If they make this data available via API alongside other data that has different licenses, including proprietary ones, does this create a "compilation" and can they limit what users do with the data they request as part of the API terms of service?

Each piece of data is atomic: think of it as, say, a list of novels and opinions about them. So for the novel "1984" there might be eight opinions, some sourced from proprietary works, some from public domain works, and some from CC-SA works. The value is in having all the opinions together in one place, and the ease of use for the people who want to see it (the target users do not usually spend a lot of time managing large JSON datasets -- think teachers).

Does this change if the end users can filter their API results to include only opinions from CC-SA licensed works?

(I haven't mentioned attribution because that's no problem, all the opinions will be cited and linked to their sources.)

The nonprofit's pro bono lawyers have come up blank on this, they mostly advise about tax law.

  • 3
    The question if the JSON modification is a transformation or not is not really all that interesting. The actual content needs to remain under the CC BY-SA license anyway. The interesting question, which is more of a question for Law, is if your API can provide data from both CC BY-SA sources and proprietary sources (especially within one response), where you cannot put it all under a single license. Aug 11, 2023 at 7:34
  • I think that's the question, really? Like, does arranging this data in a novel way alongside other data make it a compilation, which can have its own license. So if the original data was organized as "Happy statements" and "Sad statements" and we pull out all the ones that apply to particular books, remove the sentiment labels, and then share a dataset that is "Statements about books" that feels like a new compilation? Aug 12, 2023 at 14:47
  • 2
    This is too much of a legal question. In general, what someone writes about a novel (e.g. a review of 1984) is a creative expression, so the review text itself is copyrighted. However, if it's just a numerical opinion, like counting up the number of "good", "bad", "indifferent", etc. then that might fall below a threshold of creativity, thus it would no longer be a creative expression, and would not be protected the same way (in the case of lists of facts, the information on the list might receive no protection, or it might receive so-called sui generis database rights, but I'm not sure).
    – Brandin
    Aug 14, 2023 at 8:41

1 Answer 1


Whether you transform depends on (1) what CC-BY-SA license you have in mind; (2) how you transform.

If you don't alter the text per se, it's not a derivative work in many jurisdictions because there are no creative parts altered.

CC-BY-SA used to base these modifications on this definition in some places.

CC-BY-SA 4.0 says that:

Adapted Material means material subject to Copyright and Similar Rights that is derived from or based upon the Licensed Material and in which the Licensed Material is translated, altered, arranged, transformed, or otherwise modified in a manner requiring permission under the Copyright and Similar Rights held by the Licenser. For purposes of this Public License, where the Licensed Material is a musical work, performance, or sound recording, Adapted Material is always produced where the Licensed Material is synched in timed relation with a moving image.

CC-BY-SA 3.0:

"Adaptation" means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.

Check if your use really changes it.

Including a work in a database does not always mean that the entire database must be covered by this license, because it is a reproductive collection.

Speaking of collections, in version 3.0 CC-BY-SA there are special definitions and conditions of the so-called. collection:

"Collection" means a collection of literary or artistic works, such as encyclopedias and anthologies, or performances, phonograms or broadcasts, or other works or subject matter other than works listed in Section 1(f) below, which, by reason of the selection and arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual creations, in which the Work is included in its entirety in unmodified form along with one or more other contributions, each constituting separate and independent works in themselves, which together are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation (as defined below) for the purposes of this License.

Version 4.0 also keeps the rule: own license for the collection, but the original work is under the CC license (https://creativecommons.org/faq/#if-i-create-a-collection-that-includes-a-work-offered-under-a-cc-license-which-licenses-may-i-choose-for-the-collection).

After a long presentation of the arguments, the collection argument seems to meet your expectations the most. Remember that if you are using part of the database under the CC license, and not creating the entire database from scratch, the CC-BY-SA terms may oblige you to share the database under the same license (sui generis):

if You include all or a substantial portion of the database contents in a database in which You have Sui Generis Database Rights, then the database in which You have Sui Generis Database Rights (but not its individual contents) is Adapted Material, including for purposes of Section 3(b);

  • Section 3(b) is a ShareAlike (SA) section.
  • from CC-BY-SA 4.0

This is not legal advice

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