I have compiled a body of work from numerous contributors, who all licensed their individual works to me under CC-BY-SA version 3.

Can I now instead redistribute their work under CC-BY-SA version 4?


2 Answers 2


I don't think so, no. CC-BY-SA 3.0 allows in s4 that

You may Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work only under the terms of this License ... This Section ... applies to the Work as incorporated in a Collection

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; ...

That is to say, if you were to redistribute each of these works verbatim, individually, you would have to do so under CC-BY-SA-3.0; the permission to uprate the license to (eg) CC-BY-SA-4.0 applies only to adaptations.

One might argue that the mere act of collecting the works together constituted adaptation, but CC-BY-SA-3.0 is pretty clear above that the people who wrote the licence didn't think so. In one of the few pieces of jurisprudence we have on CC-BY-SA interpretation, Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, the judge held that placing a CC-BY-SA photo amongst other photos on the cover of a road atlas didn't make either the entire cover or the entire atlas a derivative work of one of those photos, which again to me argues that mere collection doesn't make an adaptation.

  • 3
    Maybe part of the ambiguity is in the question. The statement redistribute their work under CC-BY-SA version 4 instead is somewhat vague. You can't redistribute the individual works under CC-BY-SA 4, but you can distribute the collection of works under CC-BY-SA 4 (or any other license of your choosing). Jan 31, 2020 at 22:54
  • 2
    @MadHatter, the Collection would be the individual works and the way they are organized to form a collection. If I make a collage of CC-BY-SA photographs, then I would hold the rights to the way that the individual photos are arranged in the collage. And that is what I would license with a copyright license for the Collection. Feb 1, 2020 at 13:07
  • 2
    @ThomasOwens I disagree profoundly. CC-BY-SA-3.0 makes it very clear that merely gluing the works together in a collection doesn't confer the power to relicense under a later version of CC-BY-SA. Only adapting them does that.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 1, 2020 at 18:25
  • 2
    @ThomasOwens I can't agree. I can see nothing in CC-BY-SA-3.0 that suggests by sticking two CC-BY-SA-3.0 works together you can magically uprate the whole thing to CC-BY-SA-4.0. Moreover, if you could, it would make a mockery of the distinction between CC-BY-SA-3.0 ss4a and 4b, as one could glue two CBS3 works together, uprate to CBS4 by virtue of being a collection, then edit each individual work out of the collection, thus achieving the original works now also under the terms of CBS4.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 1, 2020 at 22:10
  • 2
    @amon and I would argue no, because given a copy of this collection entirely under CC-BY-SA-4.0 I could edit out an individual poem from that collection. I would then have the original poem under CC-BY-SA-4.0; if that were possible it would render useless the distinction in ss4a/4b that forbids licence uprating of verbatim copies. The bit of the collection that is not the original work may be licensed as you please, but not the bit that is the original work, and s4a is pretty clear about that.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 2, 2020 at 8:45

Based on my reading of the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license, it is OK to change the license of the Collection but not to change the license of the individual works that comprise the Collection.

We have two things to be concerned with, the Collection and the Work, both of which are defined in the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license.

Sections 4(a), 4(c), and 4(d) are the relevant sections for dealing with works that are licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0 and collections. What follows is my understanding based on reading those sections.

First, you own the collection. You can release the collection under any license that you choose. There are requirements in the CC-BY-SA 3.0 license about how you provide attribution to the creators of the individual works that are part of the collection, but also give the creator of the individual work the ability to request the removal of credit. Section 4(d) does place some restrictions that the creator of the Collection "must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation" unless such things are permitted by applicable law.

However, you do not own the individual works. Unless you take action to change the license, those individual works will always remain under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

From a practical perspective, it doesn't make sense to release the collection under a more restrictive license than CC-BY-SA 3.0, though. If all of the works were licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0, then anyone who receives the collection also receives a license to the individual works under CC-BY-SA 3.0 and can use the license to make a collection from those works and release it under a less restrictive license again.

  • 1
    What if the content is modified by the author who originally posted it under 3.0 while the collection is advertised as 4.0? Would... most jurisdictions?... consider that work now safely under 4.0, or would that be at question?
    – Aaron Hall
    Feb 1, 2020 at 17:49
  • 1
    You write "You can release the collection under any license that you choose". No; see CC-BY-SA-3.0 s4a: you may release the collection under any licence you choose apart from the Work itself.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 1, 2020 at 22:22
  • 3
    If there's nothing copyrightable to the collection except the works, it seems we agree those have to be under CBS3. So assume there's enough novel expression to it that it is copyrightable. I repeat my question: by "the collection" do you just mean that novel expression, or that plus the original works?
    – MadHatter
    Feb 5, 2020 at 16:26
  • 2
    @ThomasOwens then you seem to be ignoring the bit of s4a that says when the work is incorporated into a collection, you can release the collection under any licence you choose apart from the work itself. That is, the filigree bits can be under CBS4, or GFDL, or BSD, or CC0, or anything you like. But the works in the collection stay under CBS3. It's really very clear about that.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 5, 2020 at 23:32
  • 2
    @ThomasOwens that cannot be the correct interpretation, since if it were, you could then adapt the works out of the CBS4 collection, and have them available under CBS4. If it were the intent of the authors of the licence that you could do that, they wouldn't have bothered writing s4a as they have, but would simply have said that CBS3 works can be relicenced under CBS4 on demand. Since they instead wrote a lengthy s4a showing how simple copies of the work must remain at CBS3, your interpretation cannot be correct. And as I keep saying and you keep ignoring, the licence says not on its face.
    – MadHatter
    Feb 5, 2020 at 23:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.