I did some research and could not answer the question:

Does CC BY-NC ensure that the NC restriction is passed forward?

I would think it should. Otherwise, someone could make a tiny change to the work and release under whatever license they please. Or it this intentonally allowed by the license?

What got me wondering is the following. Derivative work can be released as:

  1. All rights reserved
  2. CC BY-NC-ND
  3. CC BY-NC-SA
  4. CC BY-NC
  5. Something else

The first three would solve the issue, number 4 is self-referring. I would expect the last possibility to be somewhat regulated by the CC BY-NC license, but I could not see it.

PS: I personally don't like NC licenses, but I am starting an Open Educational Resource project and would like to have at least a small understanding of each widely-used license in case people ask.

  • If I read your question carefully, it seems you are actually asking about what is the difference between BY-NC and BY-NC-SA. Is that a correct summary? Indeed, the SA version includes an extra clause about Adapted Materials, while the first one BY-NC does not include the same requirement.
    – Brandin
    Oct 3, 2023 at 6:24
  • So if I'm assuming a bit about what you're asking, really you want to ask if you make Adapted Material from CC-BY-NC content, you want to know what's stopping you from choosing an Adapter's License that does itself include a NC Requirement, or perhaps an Adapter's License that explicitly says "commercial use is OK".
    – Brandin
    Oct 3, 2023 at 6:32
  • @Brandin That's exactly what I'm asking, thanks! Except there seems to be a "not" missing in your phrasing: "you want to know what's stopping you from choosing an Adapter's License that does not itself include a NC Requirement"
    – user334639
    Oct 3, 2023 at 13:59
  • @Brandin It seems that Creative Commons themselves implicitly acknowledge the gap through unexplained yellow cells in their "CC Adapters License chart" at certificates.creativecommons.org/cccertedu/chapter/…
    – user334639
    Oct 4, 2023 at 1:44

2 Answers 2


Does CC BY-NC ensure that the NC restriction is passed forward?

Not by its terms (but see below).

Otherwise, someone could make a tiny change to the work and release under whatever license they please.

This is not a problem, because any downstream reuse of the modified work still has to comply with the original BY-NC license, provided it is still a derivative work of the original. As a result, the fact that the modified work is under a different license does not enable downstream reusers to do anything that they would not already be allowed to do under the original license.

In other words: BY-NC does not explicitly pass along the restriction, because copyright law already does that for you.

The part of the license quoted in MadHatter's answer only requires the intermediary to link to the CC BY-NC license, and to state that the original ("Licensed Material" as defined in the legal code) is under BY-NC. Nowhere does it say that the modified version ("Adapted Material") must be licensed under BY-NC, because if you wanted to require that, you would use BY-NC-SA instead. In practical terms, this means that (with BY-NC) the intermediary is allowed to impose additional restrictions on downstream reusers (up to and including "all rights reserved"), but they can't get rid of the restrictions that were already there. BY-NC-SA instead says that the intermediary must provide the modified version under exactly BY-NC-SA, no additional restrictions allowed.

  • Thank you! I don't know copyright law enough to check whether downstream users must comply with the original license but at least your answer makes sense from a pure logical point of view.
    – user334639
    Nov 3, 2023 at 12:30

It pretty clearly does, yes, see CC BY-NC 4.0 section 3(a)1(c):

If You Share the Licensed Material (including in modified form), You must ... indicate the Licensed Material is licensed under this Public License, and include the text of, or the URI or hyperlink to, this Public License.

  • I disagree. You are quoting Section 3-A. This section is about attribution. It says you must give attribution and indicate that the original material which you have used was licensed under CC-BY-NC. It does not prescribe terms to the license under which you shall release the modified work.
    – user334639
    Oct 3, 2023 at 3:03
  • 2
    @user334639 Yes, it's true that the section is entitled "Attribution". Point 3.a.1.A. lists the precise attribution requirements, yet 3.a.1.C. (quoted above) is the part that says that you must keep the same license (the words "this Public License" are defined at the top of the license as a shorthand for "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License"). So, although you are correct that 3.a.1.C. is not essentially an 'attribution' requirement -- regardless of the title of the heading 3.a, point 3.a.1.C is still a requirement that you must comply with.
    – Brandin
    Oct 3, 2023 at 6:14
  • Brandin says it more eloquently than I could've! I'm afraid licences aren't like newspapers; you can't just read the section headings and think you've got the gist of it, you've got to read every single word carefully. Even if s3a were titled "Choosing a dancing partner", 3(a)1(c) would still require that CC BY-NC terms apply on distribution of the material.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 3, 2023 at 7:59
  • @Brandin and MadHatter, Sorry, I beg to disagree still. Clause 3-A-1-C requires you to inform that, among all the material you have built upon, part of it had been previously released under CC-BY-NC. It does not make any requirements that you must apply similar terms to the the modified version that you have built and are thereby distributing.
    – user334639
    Oct 3, 2023 at 13:51
  • 2
    Downvoted for failing to quote 1.f, which clearly and unambiguously shoots this interpretation down.
    – Kevin
    Oct 7, 2023 at 21:30

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