I have created a custom set of playing cards and I want to use Wikimedia Commons pictures released as CC BY-SA 3.0 DE as illustration on the cards. Every card uses one picture. The pictures are not touched up, though I may do some cropping.

So what I want to do is to be able to keep copyright on my own design & text separate from the pictures (on which I have no copyright). Is this possible?

I have searched for previous questions and there was somebody who wanted to use CC BY-SA text with their own copyrighted pictures (so the other way around): Selling a book based on CC BY-SA

There, users said that it was possible to keep the licenses separate. Does this also apply to my playing cards?

I am partially confused because the relevant info says that if I "remix, transform, or build upon the material" that it also falls under CC BY-SA. As I am not creating a collage where the pictures are indistinctive anymore, this should be OK or not?

Additional info

Example picture: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_141-2497,_Flugzeug_Me_262A_auf_Flugplatz.jpg

The pictures use this CC BY-SA 3.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en

  • 1
    I think your playing cards will be considered to be derived works of the images on them, because the images are such prominent parts of the playing cards, contrary to illustrations for a book. This would mean that you would have to license your playing cards under CC-BY-SA as well. This does not affect the fact that you hold the copyrights to the design of the playing cards. Jan 14, 2018 at 17:27
  • Ok thank you for your ideas, to clarifiy, this means that others will be able to use the complete card and modify / sell it by themselves? I mean even if I have copyright on the design, the CC-BY-SA allows them to do so? The cards would look similar to this (forgot to add this to the question): wopc.co.uk/assets/cache/countries/belgium/cartamundi/…
    – doskey
    Jan 14, 2018 at 22:54
  • @BartvanIngenSchenau honestly, I think that's the answer. Fancy writing it up as one, perhaps expanding slightly on how owning the copyright is not only not a bar to open-sourcing something, it's a pre-requisite?
    – MadHatter
    Jan 15, 2018 at 8:19

1 Answer 1


This is a really tricky question that can be argued both ways. The important distinction is: are your playing cards a Abwandlung (adaption) of the images, a Sammelwerk (collection), or is this just Vervielfältigung (reproduction)? The CC-BY-SA 3.0 DE defines these:

a. Der Begriff "Abwandlung" im Sinne dieser Lizenz bezeichnet das Ergebnis jeglicher Art von Veränderung des Schutzgegenstandes, […]. Das kann insbesondere eine Bearbeitung, Umgestaltung, Änderung, Anpassung, Übersetzung oder Heranziehung des Schutzgegenstandes zur Vertonung von Laufbildern sein. Nicht als Abwandlung des Schutzgegenstandes gelten seine Aufnahme in eine Sammlung oder ein Sammelwerk und die freie Benutzung des Schutzgegenstandes.

b. Der Begriff "Sammelwerk" im Sinne dieser Lizenz meint eine Zusammenstellung von literarischen, künstlerischen oder wissenschaftlichen Inhalten, sofern diese Zusammenstellung aufgrund von Auswahl und Anordnung der darin enthaltenen selbständigen Elemente eine geistige Schöpfung darstellt, unabhängig davon, ob die Elemente systematisch oder methodisch angelegt und dadurch einzeln zugänglich sind oder nicht.


f. "Vervielfältigen" im Sinne dieser Lizenz bedeutet, mittels beliebiger Verfahren Vervielfältigungsstücke des Schutzgegenstandes herzustellen, insbesondere durch Ton- oder Bildaufzeichnungen, und umfasst auch […] die Übertragung des Schutzgegenstandes auf einen Bild- oder Tonträger oder auf ein anderes elektronisches Medium, gleichviel ob in digitaler oder analoger Form.

The English phrasing of these sections in the unported CC license variant differs substantially in many details from the German version, so I'll not reproduce it here. In particular, the unported license sees an adaption if you “base upon” the creative work, whereas the German license explicitly expects an “Veränderung” (change).

I do not think your usage would be an Abwandlung since you will include the images verbatim. If you do change the images (e.g. retouching or cropping the pictures) then that is an Abwandlung and the appropriate terms apply to that changed image. But I don't think this Abwandlung applies to your playing cards.

I also do not think your playing cards constitute a Sammelwerk since your playing cards are playing cards, not primarily a collection of independent images. This can be argued differently, but I don't think the distinction is important as the license conditions for simple Verfielfältigung und Sammelwerke are very similar. (The primary difference is that the act of curating creating works into a Sammelwerk results in an independent copyright for that collection, whereas Verfielfältigung does not create a new copyright.)

I therefore think that your use case is best described as Verfielfältigung (reproduction) of the images on your playing cards. The playing cards are certainly a valid medium for these images. According to 3.a you have the right to this use:

Den Schutzgegenstand in beliebiger Form und Menge zu vervielfältigen, ihn in Sammelwerke zu integrieren und ihn als Teil solcher Sammelwerke zu vervielfältigen;

… as long as you fulfil the conditions in section 4. These are the usual CC conditions such as crediting the author, providing a link to the license, keeping copyright notices intact, and not hindering recipients from exercising their rights by imposing DRM or similar restrictions. The terms in 4.b that would require you to license your playing cards under the same license only apply to Abwandlungen, i.e. don't apply in this case.

  • Thank you for your detailed answer, yesterday after more research I also found an answer on a German "ask-a-lawyer" site where a user asks nearly the same question I think. There, the user wants to use a p
    – doskey
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:44
  • ...use a graphic in study material and sell the complete package. See frag-einen-anwalt.de/… The lawyer agrees that under CC BY-SA 3.0 the rights to their own work would be covered and that the user only would need to cover the image under CC BY-SA 3.0. Also the lizenzhinweisgenerator.de hints that a 'Sammelwerk' would be a collection of several images that are closely connected and thus constitute an own "Werk" (like you argued).
    – doskey
    Jan 15, 2018 at 14:58

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