Bob writes an article and licenses it under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Certain laws can permit Bob to include someone else’s content in his article, even if this content isn’t compatibly licensed. For example, Bob may have the right to quote an image in his article. By including this image in the article, it doesn’t get licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, because Bob is not permitted to license it (the license only applies to the parts that Bob created himself).

May Bob quote his own image this way, too? So that his image (although Bob would be permitted to license it under CC BY-SA 3.0) doesn’t get licensed.

If the article or the image is published pseudonymously/anonymously, no one else would know, and the question doesn’t arise. So I’m asking about the case where the reader can see that Bob is the author of both, the article and the quoted image.

Background: Bob wants to publish the article on a site that licenses all contributions under CC BY-SA 3.0, but he doesn’t want to license this particular image. So in case other contexts would allow Bob to exclude parts of his work for any reason from getting licensed anyway, this context isn’t one of them. (loosely inspired by a Meta SE discussion)

  • I suspect the answer in general would be "yes, you may exclude an image from the licensed material" but this different from the specific answer, "no, if a site requires each image to be under CC-BY-SA, then you must do so or else be in violation of the site's ToS". I expect linking law in the U.S. (per Google v. Perfect 10) would allow the case that you merely embed an external image and not upload it to someone else's server
    – apsillers
    Apr 14 '18 at 2:30
  • (That is, posting the HTML tag <img src="//privatesite.foo/myimg.png"> is legally quite different from uploading your image to someone's server.)
    – apsillers
    Apr 14 '18 at 2:48
  • @apsillers: The example site’s ToS would not disallow quoting an image, it just says: "All contributions are licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0." Quotes don’t have to be explicitly excluded, the license simply can’t apply to them, right? So the ToS add the license to the article, but not to the quoted third-party image. The question now is, I think, if this implicit exclusion is triggered by quoting or by not-being-the-copyright-holder.
    – unor
    Apr 14 '18 at 3:33
  • My guess is that the article with the image will be seen as an aggregation of two works (the text of the article and the image). In that case, both the text and the image are separate contributions and both need to be licensed under CC-BY-SA. Apr 14 '18 at 5:03
  • @unor If someone visits the site and expects that all contributions are licensed a certain way (CC BY-SA), how will you communicate to that someone that your particular image is not licensed that way, although it appears to be a contribution? Wikipedia, for example, communicates licensing information for each image on a separate image page.
    – Brandin
    Apr 24 '18 at 15:20

It would be nonsensical if you have more rights to someone else's work than to your own work. Therefore, you are likely able to quote your own work.

In the context of CC-BY-SA, it is important that not only do you have the right to publish the resulting work, but that the resulting work is in fact correctly licensed under the CC-BY-SA, so that others may share and modify it. It may therefore not be adapted from non-CC-BY-SA works.

This requires that you properly quote your own work as a separate work. When relying on copyright exemptions such as a right to quote, this may require the quotation to be de minimis, and properly attributed. For example, including a high-res image might not be covered by such copyright exemptions, whereas a low-res thumbnail or a cropped part with a link to the original work may be covered. Whether technologies like HTML <img> and <iframe> tags embed content or merely reference it is an interesting but definitively not resolved question.

So do make sure that you only exercise rights you would have to another's work, and do not make use of the rights you have as the creator of the quoted work. Otherwise, it would not be unreasonable to assume that you had in fact licensed the quoted work under the CC license, because otherwise the resulting work (containing the “citation”) could not be licensed under CC-BY-SA.

You could perhaps also license the work so that it can be included in CC-BY-SA works, without falling under the CC-BY-SA itself. For example, by using a CC-BY license. You can then embed the work in its entirety, without relying on a right to quote. However, you have to make sure that the embedded work and the CC-BY-SA embedding work are clearly separate works. Here, this might be rather problematic because the combination of these works clearly does not fall under the CC-BY-SA in its entirety. I think this could be fine if you can clearly separate the licenses (e.g. in a book with CC-BY-SA text but non-free illustrations). But in the context of creating content on a web site where all user submissions are CC-BY-SA, I don't think this would be possible, so that you would have implicitly licensed the embedded work under CC-BY-SA as well.


  • You can't arbitrarily exclude parts of a work from the CC-BY-SA if you agree to license the whole work under the CC-BY-SA.
  • Self-quoting is OK, but you are then bound by the restrictions of applicable rights to quote or fair use rights. Do not make use of any rights you have as the creator of the quoted work.

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