The text of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license mentions the following:

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.

Is there an exact definition or explanation anywhere of what constitutes an Adaptation? I've found an official wiki dealing with how Adaptations are supposed to be relicensed, but it doesn't explain what an Adaptation is.

As an example from this very site - if someone takes my CC-BY-SA post and edits in a comma, is it an Adaptation? What if it's one word, one sentence, one paragraph, two paragraphs, etc?

1 Answer 1


The legal text of the CC BY-SA-4.0 license contains the definition you are looking for

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.

How large a change needs to be to create an Adaptation (or equivalently Adapted Material) is not defined. If the change is clearly non-mechanical and required some thought from a human, then that change is definitely large enough to create an Adaptation. If the change is purely mechanical (for example, a different placement of line breaks) then it is insufficient to create an Adaptation. Where the exact difference lies is not defined and has to be judged on a case by case basis.

  • I'm not sure editing in a comma creates a derivative. I've long cherished a theory that if the delta is not itself enough to qualify for copyright protection, a derivative work is not created, but I also confess that I have no idea where I got the idea, and certainly don't have any legal basis for it.
    – MadHatter
    Nov 10, 2019 at 20:19
  • @MadHattersupportsMonica, I like to err on the side of caution in such cases. Nov 11, 2019 at 7:37
  • An excellent adage, but in this case making a derivative work gives additional rights (relicensing), so surely the cautious route is to suggest that a clearly-significant (and thus clearly-copyrightable) edit is required to unambiguously generate an Adaptation?
    – MadHatter
    Nov 11, 2019 at 9:35
  • @MadHattersupportsMonica, I see your point and have amended my answer. Nov 11, 2019 at 18:28
  • The more I read about CC licenses, the more I realize they're poorly thought out (except for CC0, the least restrictive one). Wonder why they're so popular... Nov 11, 2019 at 18:56

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