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I was reading the website of the Secret Hitler board game which states the following (emphasis mine):

Secret Hitler is licensed under Creative Commons BY–NC–SA 4.0. That means you have to give us credit for the original, you're not allowed to profit from it commercially in any way, and you have to license it under the exact same CC license. You also can't submit anything to an app store or anything like that.

This isn't an exhaustive list, and it's your responsibility to make sure you're not infringing on our thing.

However, assuming the hypothetical app is not for commercial purposes (i.e. it's free, contains no ads and no in-app purchases), I don't see distributing it in an app store being against CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Am I missing something here?

NOTE: I'm asking about content licensed under CC NC licenses in general - I'm only taking this example because it's the only one I know that explicitly interprets the license this way.

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The CC-BY-NC-SA does not inherently forbid usage in apps. However, usage in apps will be quite difficult:

  • the use must be non-commercial, as defined in the license
  • the license disallows more restrictive terms to be added
  • in particular, the license forbids DRM

Such requirements can easily clash with an app store's guidelines and terms which have their own licensing terms. These clashes are similar to the conflicts between app store terms and the GPL. It seems that GPL apps cannot be published on the Apple App Store, but can be published on the Google Play Store. The same considerations would apply to any Creative Commons Share Alike license.

The non-commercial aspect is not directly relevant here.


But since the CC licenses only apply to creative works and not necessarily entire programs, I'm not entirely sure whether the above analysis holds. Apps can certainly legally display CC-BY-NC-SA content, for example all web browsers do. Would an app that has the ability to display this content be allowed?

I'd argue that from the perspective of the CC license, it's not terribly relevant whether the content is loaded from external servers or bundled with the app, so that it may be perfectly possible to distribute this content within an app, if appropriate care is taken – in particular, that the content is separable from the app so that it can be shared independently.


To the concrete example you cited, the intent is not necessarily “you totally cannot build apps” but probably “we have a monopoly on economic exploitation of the game”.

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