I tried to read the license deed but it was too advanced for me to understand.

Consider these 2 situations,

  1. I take a CC-BY-SA image and upload it to my blogpost it as is, without any modification.
  2. I take a CC-BY-SA image, modify it and then add it to my blogpost.

How do each of these affect my website? Will it make my post also CC-BY-SA?

While searching about this someone even suggested not using BY-SA images as it could make my entire website BY-SA.


The CC ShareAlike terms merely say that whenever you do make a derivative work of the image, distribution of that derivative work must be under ShareAlike (or CC-approved ShareAlike-compatible) terms. The relevant unsettled question is exactly when a derivative work is created, which lies in the domain of copyright law, not the license terms.

Certainly modifications to the image itself will need to be under ShareAlike terms, but the degree to which that requirement extends to a surrounding context is slightly less clear. There is some relevant case law (from the United States):

The U.S. case Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, LLC found that the use of a CC BY-SA image as cover art for an atlas did not extend the ShareAlike requirement to the whole atlas. The court found use of the image as cover art to be a compilation of separate works rather than a single derivative. This is not exactly the same as inline inclusion in a blog post, but it may be the closest case law that currently exists.

Since you are considering an online blog specifically, there may be additional factors in favor of the image being a completely separate work. If the blog post is written in HTML and does not directly include the image (e.g., as a base-64 embedded data blob) but instead refers to it by URL, the U.S. case Perfect 10 v. Amazon found that referring to an image resource by URL is not equivalent to displaying the image. The fact that a web browser will attempt to render whatever resource is found at that URL does not mean the author of the HTML page is responsible for displaying that image.

Specifically, the Perfect 10 ruling says:

Providing these HTML instructions [i.e., to display someone's copyrighted image] is not equivalent to showing a copy. First, the HTML instructions are lines of text, not a photographic image. Second, HTML instructions do not themselves cause infringing images to appear on the user’s computer screen.

From such a legal conclusion, I think there's a strong argument that referring to an image by URL in an HTML page would not inherently create a derivative of the image, either, since the HTML instructions do not include the image itself.

  • Your point about that decision is not completely correct. The issue is not embedding the content. Is hosting it. An image URL can infringe if the URL point to the image hosted by something other than the copyright holder.
    – Bakuriu
    Mar 24 '19 at 20:18
  • @Bakuriu I see how I have slightly overstated the scope of the case, and I have edited to rephrase my point. My point is agnostic to whether the person hosts the image or not. I wanted to highlight the fact that URL reference does not inherently cause infringement (though it might do so, as you say, for whoever actually hosts and serves the image), and this indicates that the HTML instructions to include an image are detached from the copyright of the image. I'm interested, in this answer, in the consequences this has for the status of the HTML page as a (non-)derivative work.
    – apsillers
    Mar 24 '19 at 21:44
  • As soon as I read the question, I thought of Drauglis as the persuasive authority. +1 from me.
    – MadHatter
    Mar 25 '19 at 7:11

The ShareAlike licenses (version 4) use this definition to describe what exactly is subject to the ShareAlike requirements:

[Section 1(a)] Adapted Material means material subject to Copyright and Similar Rights that is derived from or based upon the Licensed Material and in which the Licensed Material is translated, altered, arranged, transformed, or otherwise modified in a manner requiring permission under the Copyright and Similar Rights held by the Licensor. For purposes of this Public License, where the Licensed Material is a musical work, performance, or sound recording, Adapted Material is always produced where the Licensed Material is synched in timed relation with a moving image.


[Section 1(k)] Share means to provide material to the public by any means or process that requires permission under the Licensed Rights, such as reproduction, public display, public performance, distribution, dissemination, communication, or importation, and to make material available to the public including in ways that members of the public may access the material from a place and at a time individually chosen by them.


[Section 3(b)] In addition to the conditions in Section 3(a), if You Share Adapted Material You produce, the following conditions also apply.

I know, it's a lot of text. But it is fairly unambiguous:

  • If you modify the image, the modified image itself is certainly subject to ShareAlike requirements. That is, you must license the modified image under the same CC-BY-SA license, a later one, or under one of the "compatible licenses".
  • If you display either the modified or unmodified image, with or without accompanying text, then it would depend on whether the text could be considered a derivative work of the image. In most cases, the answer will be "no"; that's why they had to add a special carve-out for using music as the soundtrack to a film ("synched in timed relation with a moving image").
  • However, if for example the text is a very detailed description of the image contents, to help people with vision problems interpret or appreciate it, then that might be a derivative work, because it incorporates elements of the image directly into the text. This will likely vary by jurisdiction, so consult a local attorney if you're uncertain whether your particular use is a derivative.
  • I cannot imagine a situation in which using a single CC-BY-SA image would subject your entire website to the ShareAlike requirements. There are, unfortunately, licenses that do things like that (e.g. the SSPL), but Creative Commons does not publish any such licenses, nor will you find such a license widely accepted or used within the open source community.

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