What I'm doing:

  • I'm adapting a work licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported license to a different language.
  • I'm indicating the original work and its license.
  • I'm indicating that I have made changes to it.

Can I release my modified version of the license under CC BY-SA 4.0 or do I have to license my modifications under the CC BY-SA 3.0?

Arguments why:

  • Version 4.0 is ported to more languages.
  • Version 4.0 is the site-wide version, so I wouldn't have to have this one work licensed under a different version of the license (reducing complexity).

2 Answers 2


The CC-BY-SA 3.0 license is “forward compatible” with later versions. In section 4(b):

You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of:
(i) this License;
(ii) a later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License;
(iii) a Creative Commons jurisdiction license (either this or a later license version) that contains the same License Elements as this License (e.g., Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US));
(iv) a Creative Commons Compatible License.

The term “License Element” means the “Attribution” and “Share-Alike” components of the CC license.

This is also explained in the Creative Commons compatible licenses page:

Your contributions to adaptations of BY-SA 3.0 materials may only be licensed under:

  • BY-SA 3.0, or a later version of the BY-SA license.
  • Ported versions of the BY-SA license, version 3.0 or later.
  • A license designated as a “Creative Commons Compatible License” as defined in BY-SA 3.0.

Currently, no non-CC licenses have been designated as compatible with BY-SA 3.0.

Note that this only applies to Adaptations in the sense of the license: you may use a compatible license or later license version for your Adaptations, but cannot relicense the original work. This difference is relevant when you want to use an un-adapted work. In this sense, the CC licenses have a compatibility mechanism but no way to do a license migration.

  • 11
    I'd suggest linking, and quoting from, Creative Common's 4.0 upgrade guidelines. Those guidelines make it clear that Creative Commons, the organization that wrote the licenses, believes that for an adaptation of something licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 into a CC BY-SA 4.0 Adaptation that you "can license new contributions to an adaptation under 4.0 but original contributions remain under prior version unless express permission to upgrade is obtained."
    – Makyen
    Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 19:01
  • 2
    @Makyen I'd be interested to see more background on that "contributions to an adaptation" part, because it doesn't appear in the 3.0 license text. Instead, section 4(b) begins "You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of..."; there doesn't seem to be a distinction between the changed and unchanged parts of that adaptation.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Sep 10, 2019 at 17:21

IANAL but according to the Creative Commons Foundation although the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license allows you to license your new contributions under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license it doesn't allow you to "upgrade" the original CC-BY-SA 3.0 license of the original work. So technically the effective overall license of your translated work will be a CC-BY-SA 3.0 + CC-BY-SA 4.0 "license stack" (i.e. downstream users must technically comply with the terms of both CC-BY-SA licenses and not simply just the CC-BY-SA 4.0 license). Such a license "upgrade" mechanism was newly introduced with the CC-BY-SA 4.0 license but doesn't retroactively apply to the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Relevant quotes from Creative Commons:

In version 4.0, CC added a provision in the ShareAlike licenses that enables downstream licensees to refer only to the adapter’s license when using adapted material that contains the copyrightable contributions of multiple authors. This feature is designed to minimize complexity for reusers where they are using a later version of the ShareAlike license or a compatible license as their adapter's license. In 4.0, users need only refer to a single set of conditions contained in the last license applied to reuse adapted material, rather than parsing the conditions of the original and other adapter's licenses (to the extent the licenses differ).

In all cases, the licenses stack (the later license does not supplant all previously-applied licenses) when adapted material is created. In particular, the license originally applied to the material being remixed continues to apply once remixed, however permission is given in 4.0 for licensees to meet the conditions of the 4.0 license with reference to those in the adapter's license.

Prior to the 4.0 versioning process, CC had not always been clear that the ShareAlike licenses stacked just as they stack for the BY and BY-NC licenses, and reasonable minds do differ on this point. CC believes, however, that this is the best reading of its all of its licenses that permit adaptations prior to 4.0 and, now, has made that explicit in version 4.0.


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