Wikipedia has a list of English words sorted by frequency. I used that list to create a small hangman game and I would like to put it up on GitHub. The game is probably going to be open-source (GPL). Do I have to give Wikipedia credit or something like that? I found this article on Wikipedia Reusing Wikipedia content but I don't quite understand it and I am not really good with licenses and all.

Question: Can I use that list in an open-source game I will put up on GitHub? Do I have to give them some kind of credit? If so, exactly how? I would quite like to not bother with attribution and all, this is just a small game and I already make no profit on it.

I've seen this question, but it's presumable about commercial use of the material. So, I don't know how much of it applies here. Also it's sort of directly republishing the material, but I am just using it to make the game work. The words are in a text file and I load them at runtime.

In case that other question applies here also, I would appreciate a small example of how to give attribution. Do I just say "I took the word list from Wikipedia" in the license file in GitHub after the GPL conditions? Do I note that in a separate file?

  • 1
    All of the question you have linked is likely to apply, since CC BY-SA doesn't distinguish between commercial and noncommercial use. Also, if you are distributing this list of words with your game, you, too, are republishing Wikipedia material.
    – MadHatter
    May 3, 2020 at 20:06
  • @MadHatter thank you for the quick reply. I should probably remove this question in that case. May 3, 2020 at 20:08
  • 1
    If you're satisfied that the linked question tells you what you need to know, please say so, and I can close this one as a duplicate. That way your question will still be here for the edification of anyone else who has a similar query at some point in the future.
    – MadHatter
    May 3, 2020 at 20:09
  • 2
    It's more a question of whether you got the answers you needed. If the linked question doesn't tell you all of what you want to know, you should edit your question to indicate what issue(s) remain unresolved in your mind.
    – MadHatter
    May 3, 2020 at 20:11
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    @apsillers you make a good point, though describing the EU as a "sui generis jurisdiction" is embedding the US as normative to a greater extent than I'd accept.
    – MadHatter
    May 4, 2020 at 5:29

1 Answer 1


Commercial activities which infringe copyright don't become non-infringing simply by becoming non-commercial; that is, the commercial nature of your activity has very little bearing on its infringing nature. You are also distributing this word list with your game, so please disabuse yourself of the idea that you are not republishing the material.

That said, some substantive questions arise. The one about attribution of CC material in a game is one we have already addressed, so you should read those answers carefully.

apsillers raises an excellent point about whether such a list qualifies for copyright protection at all, and if not, what you will need to do about jurisdictions which recognise a database right; these jurisdictions include the EU, in which I believe you are located. I would be quite nervous about making an argument based on Feist (to which apsillers links, supra) that the list failed to qualify for copyright protection; I can see the arguments both ways, but it's not clear to me that either outcome can be relied upon. In any case, the specific question of copyright protection, and the one about database rights and the licensing thereof, should probably be asked on https://law.stackexchange.com/ .

Why take the risk? Acknowledging the source of the word list isn't exactly onerous, and the legal analysis required by way of alternative is becoming comparably ponderous, at the least. Once you've made the acknowledgment, no questions about infringement can arise, as you have honoured the terms of the licence. The word list is used as an input to your code, so the entire program cannot be regarded as a derivative of the word list. Thus the share-alike right goes no further than the list itself, which can be had from Wikipedia anyway.

Honour the requirements of CC BY-SA and sleep soundly, untroubled by the interestingly thorny issues lurking round the back of this question.

  • Are CC BY-SA and GPL compatible?
    – Taemyr
    May 4, 2020 at 9:19
  • @Taemyr CC BY-SA 4 effectively is, because it permits a one-way relicensing to GPLv3+. CC BY-SA 3 isn't. Why?
    – MadHatter
    May 4, 2020 at 12:37
  • Because OP wanted to license his work under GPL.
    – Taemyr
    May 4, 2020 at 13:05
  • @Taemyr and as I've tried to show, this (s)he can do. The word list is not part of the game program; it is an input to the game program. The GPL doesn't require that inputs to GPL software be themselves distributed under GPL, otherwise nobody could use gcc to compile proprietary code.
    – MadHatter
    May 4, 2020 at 13:42

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