Since 2015-10-08, GPLv3 is listed as one-way compatible license for CC BY-SA 4.0:

[…] you may license your contributions to adaptations of BY-SA 4.0 materials under GPLv3, but you may not license your contributions to adaptations of GPLv3 projects under BY-SA 4.0

That means I may

  1. take source code licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0,
  2. adapt it, and
  3. publish it under GPLv3.

But I may not take source code licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 and publish it as it is (without adaptation) under GPLv3, correct?

But what exactly counts as adaptation of source code?

The legalcode of CC BY-SA 4.0 says in section 1(a):

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 Licensor. 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.

It says "based upon" and "arranged". Does this mean that I may take the source code and include it ("arrange"?) in my software/code (licensed under GPLv3) without modifying it? For example, the source code could be a self-contained function/class, a complex regular expression, or something similar which doesn’t necessarily need modification. After including it, my software would require this code to work properly, so could it be considered "based upon" it?

  • I am not a lawyer and am wondering if "adaption" and "adaptation" mean the same thing to a lawyer. Commented Oct 12, 2015 at 12:23
  • Your use of the word "adaption" in your question contradicts the word "adaptation" in your quotes. Is this intended? It would be great if you could elaborate on this.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 21:35
  • @Zizouz212: I didn’t notice that they are diferent (I read the occurence of "adaptation" as "adaption"). -- Is there a difference in meaning? I’m not a native speaker, so I looked it up and from what I read (e.g., in a closed English SE question), they seem to be synonyms. -- As adaptation seems to be the preferred form and, more importantly, because it’s used in the quoted passage, I’ll replace adaption with adaptation.
    – unor
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 0:23
  • I understand that "adaptation" is the correct word here, and quite honestly, I've never heard of the word "adaption" in use. Someone else may have different experiences, but I think that myself and Glenn had thought that you were trying to imply something else. :)
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 0:24

2 Answers 2


But what exactly counts as adaptation of source code?

Adaptation of the source code could be anything.... Anything.

For example if you had:

*Code here........*  a = 1; *More code here.......*

and you took this code (assuming there is more than just a = 1...) You could change as little as this:

*Code here........*  **b** = 1; *More code here.......* 

and that would count as adapting the work....

Because the code is based from someone else's work your adapting their code, therefore WHATEVER you do to change it in ANY way is a adaptation.

  • So you say that something in the code itself would have to be changed (and copy-pasting it as is into a larger piece of code is not sufficient), correct? -- And you say that even changing something trivial (like: the name of a variable), which is most likely below the threshold of originality, would count as adaptation?
    – unor
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 23:19
  • No... by copying it into another piece of code you are changing it... And yes even if you change something trivial... weather you add something to the code ... or you add the code to something it is the same thing. Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 23:48
  • 1
    Do you have any sources for this? -- For example, in the FAQ entry When is my use considered an adaptation? it says: "Generally, a modification rises to the level of an adaptation under copyright law when the modified work is based on the prior work but manifests sufficient new creativity to be copyrightable, such as a translation of a novel from one language to another, or the creation of a screenplay based on a novel." (bold emphasis mine)
    – unor
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 19:16
  • This is entirely wrong. The paragraph below that in the FAQ that makes it clear it's possible to use CC-BY-SA without it becoming an adaptation. If even the smallest combination with other things was an adaptation then that paragraph from the FAQ would call that out.
    – gman
    Commented Mar 17, 2020 at 14:56

TL;DR Content should be adapted for use in software. Not vice versa.

"What qualifies as an adaptation of code under a Creative Commons license" is a hard question to answer, because Creative Commons licenses were not designed for code and are often discouraged for that purpose.

That may apply to the new CC licenses as well. According to Creative Commons, compatibility of CC-BY 4.0 / CC-BY-SA 4.0 with GPL 3.0 is not for general use, but rather

designed to help solve a specific problem for those working in niche areas where content is adapted and melded with code.

Some possible examples that come to mind:

  • Dialogue and cinema scenes in a video game
  • Documentation that's integrated into an application

That's different from applying a CC license to code itself, which isn't really the intended use of that license. Of course some people might do it anyway...

As I said, it's a hard question. But if I had to answer, I'd probably agree with what Trevor Clarke said -- any modification, or combination with another work, qualifies as an adaptation.

  • CC licences might not be intended for code. But unfortunately Stackoverflow licences its content under CC-By-SA. So this question is no longer a "niche topic"
    – Ichthyo
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 16:57

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