I'm puzzled by the "share-alike" clause in Creative Commons license. This license allows free commercial use but "require[s] [] adaptations of the work to be released under the same or similar license as the original".

So if I'm building a commercial product with proprietary content and I use a CC BY-SA work, does that mean that I have to make my entire product available for free download?

If that's the case, then I can see how this would work for a commercial company that, hypothetically, sells printouts of Wikipedia pages. But how would it work for a commercial company that builds its own content? Seems to me that if my product is content I have to stay completely away from CC BY-SA works. Am I correct?

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    What does the company (want to) do with the content? What does the company want to prevent (what others shouldn’t do with the content)?
    – unor
    Feb 17, 2018 at 2:15
  • @unor, I would like to take a CC BY-SA passage and use it to create SAT-style questions in my commercial online SAT prep product. I do not need to prevent anyone from doing anything with those questions, per se. However, I want to reserve all rights on all other original in-house content.
    – Wynne
    Feb 18, 2018 at 2:52
  • CC-BY-SA doesn't reach as far as you think. Content is typically an aggregation of independently copyrighted works and the share-alike clause only applies if there is an ancestry link to a work that already has a share-alike clause, which can't be said for works that happen to be aggregated in the same collection but are otherwise separate works. Feb 18, 2018 at 8:26
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    @sambler this is FUD. Both the GPL and CC-BY-SA require that any derivative work is published under the same terms as the work from which they are derived, but neither extends any further than copyright's definition of a derived work. Any circumstance in which your use of CC-BY-SA material would require your work to be published under CC-BY-SA would apply were it GPLed material and the GPL, and vice versa. They are precisely as "viral" as each other.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 18, 2018 at 13:49
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    What you've just put your finger on is why CC-BY-SA is not recommended for code. If you incorporate CC-BY-SA code into your application, you will need to publish the entire application under CC-BY-SA (or permissible alternative); it affects derivative works just as the GPL does. And as for the last example, if you release a set of icons under the GPL you also don't have to give me the source files you used to create them.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 18, 2018 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


No, the share-alike terms mean that if you create a derivative work of the CC-BY-SA licensed work, you can only publish it under the same license. But including a CC-BY-SA licensed work into a larger work doesn't necessarily affect that larger work.

The question is:

  • Am I merely reproducing a licensed work? This is explicitly allowed by the license, as long as I provide proper attribution etc.
  • Or is my use a kind of adaption or modification? This is only allowed if I license the result under the CC-BY-SA.

Let's look at a few examples:

  • I am writing a blog post and found a CC-BY-SA licensed image. Can I include it?

    Yes, as long as I provide proper attribution and mention the license. I don't have to license my blog post under CC-BY-SA.

    • I photoshop the image first. What now?

      I can only publish the modified image under CC-BY-SA. This means attributing the original source, stating my changes, and mentioning the license. This still doesn't affect the blog post.

  • I am creating a video to showcase my product. I want to use CC-BY-SA licensed music in the background.

    Under the terms of the CC license, this makes the whole video a derivative work of the music. I can only publish the video under the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

  • Can I publish an app that uses CC-BY-SA licensed background images?

    This is OK as long as I provide proper attribution. Note that attribution should also include a link to the original work, so that users can download this image. I may not apply any (legal or technical) restrictions that would prevent users from exercising their rights under the CC-BY-SA with respect to the background image. But the license of the app is not affected.

  • I found some CC-BY-SA licensed code. Can I include it in my proprietary software?

    The CC-BY-SA licenses are not well suited for code, but some people still use it that way. When I include that code, my software becomes a derivative work. I can therefore only publish it under the terms of the CC-BY-SA or a compatible license (e.g. CC-BY-SA 4.0 can also be used under the GPLv3). This means that users are free to share the software and change it. The CC-BY-SA does not require me to publish my source code, and does not prevent me from charging for the software. However, any recipient can share the software at no charge, so I might as well make the software a free download.

  • Also you do not have to may it downloadable. This is a myth. You only have to make the parts (see above) have the same licence. If you give it to one person. Then they have to have the rights under the licence. That is it. If the licence says source code available (I don't know for this licence), then you could bundle it with the product (then no need to worry about someone coming to you in a few years). Feb 22, 2018 at 23:36
  • @ctrl-alt-delor You are right that strictly speaking, you don't have to offer a download under all circumstances. But it is an easy way to fulfill the spirit and the word of the CC license. According to the attribution rules in 3(a)(1)(A)(v) and 3(a)(2) of the CC-BY-SA 4.0, you must include a hyperlink if the Licensor supplied one, and can satisfy attribution requirements through a link. For an electronic medium such as an app, this is definitively “reasonably practical”. Of course this only applies when licensed material is shared.
    – amon
    Feb 23, 2018 at 15:30
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    "Can I publish an app that uses CC-BY-SA licensed background images?" Which part of the CC license text makes it clear that the app would not be an Adaptation (a.k.a. derivative work) in this case? In other words, at what point does something become a separate Work that merely "reproduces" a CC-licensed Work, rather than Adapting it?
    – Thomas
    Apr 24, 2020 at 9:19

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