I am currently having trouble understanding the ND part of Creative Commons licenses.

Let's assume that I have found a database which is being published as CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DE. Most of the corresponding restrictions are pretty self-explanatory for me, except the ND part.

As the database is rather big, I would like to extract some columns (without changing their content) from the database and use this part as input to my (open source) application (which is completely free). The extracted data itself would be available on the web to be downloaded by my software if needed. A license file with proper attribution would accompany my extract, with the license being the same as the original one.

Does the CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 DE license allow this?

  • What sort of output does your program produce from the database inputs?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 11:11
  • The program does not directly output the database inputs, but just uses them internally to create calls to an external API (where a database cell might be used as an URL parameter).
    – epR8GaYuh
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 11:16
  • 1
    What do you mean with "I would like to extract some columns […] from the database"? Would your queries just use a sub-set of the available columns or do you intend to create a new database with the subset of columns? Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:17
  • I would take the original database, retrieve some columns (let's say 2) from it and save them into an own database/formatted file (for example CSV).
    – epR8GaYuh
    Commented Jun 5, 2020 at 13:20

2 Answers 2


There are two questions here. Firstly, can you extract a subset of a CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 database and distribute it on the web, and secondly, can you use that subset to inform the decisions of a piece of software with which others interact. You have the added complication that you're asking about the German language version of the licence; I'm assuming that it is, as CC say, a mere translation of the English version, which is the only one I can speak to. I'm also assuming that the database is a collection of facts, and not (eg) poems, or some other content in which copyright vested before they were so collected.

Regarding the question of subset distribution, as unor points out we already have an answer about excerpting *-ND works, which argues that you may not. But that question is specifically about creative works, whilst in this case the work is a database, and different jurisdictions recognise different amounts of protection for databases. Some, notably in the EU, recognise a specific database right; others say that copyright protection can arise through the originality implicit in its creation, but the extent of this depends on how the database was assembled, of which you tell us nothing; still others say that copyright cannot vest in collections of facts, so there is nothing to licence, and reuse cannot be controlled in this way.

CC BY-NC-ND 4 recognises the database right, and speaks of it in s4a:

for the avoidance of doubt, Section 2(a)(1) grants You the right to extract, reuse, reproduce, and Share all or a substantial portion of the contents of the database for NonCommercial purposes only and provided You do not Share Adapted Material

The licence does not define a substantial portion; I would read it as larger than de minimis, which would permit what you propose by way of subset distribution. Unfortunately, CC BY-NC-ND 3 has no similar language.

Regarding the question of informing the execution of a program with the subset of a database, and the subsequent licensing of the program's outputs, the question is very muddy. I can find no guiding precedent on the subject. I am inclined to think that such an arrangement does not create a derivative work, but the chances of me being your judge when the database creator hauls you up in court are very slim indeed.

In summary, I think this is very messy. I see no clear and generally-valid set of permissions that allow your proposal, although you may be able to do it in some jurisdictions. I think you are much better off contacting the database rightsholder, explaining your proposal, and asking them if you may do what you propose. Either they don't really care, in which case they're likely to give you much clearer permissions, which would hopefully extend to distributing a copy of the database subset alongside copies of your program, and under much clearer licensing terms. Or they do really care, in which case you can avoid the unpleasantness of a later lawsuit by allowing them to forbid it now for the price of a stamp.

  • The database contains user generated content the user provides to the database holder under the given license. Some of the columns are actual text (HTML), but most of them I would consider as pure facts (like some GPS position or identifiers) - I am only interested in some of the identifiers for my extract. To clear this up, I will contact the database rightsholder to avoid problems later on.
    – epR8GaYuh
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 6:48

Here are the options simplified:

  • Attribution: Attribution is required for all six licenses. Good attribution should include title, author, source, and license.
  • ShareAlike: Derivatives must be under the same terms. For example, someone could license a CC BY work under all rights reserved. ShareAlike fixes this problem, so a CC BY-SA work can only be licensed under CC BY-SA.
  • NonCommercial: Usage only for non-commercial purposes is allowed.
  • NoDerivatives: You cannot share derivative works. Answering your original question, excerpting is considered an adaption, and is prohibited by BY-ND and BY-NC-ND. Resizing an image or changing it's format, for example, is not considered a derivative work.

If you need help choosing a Creative Commons license for your own project, I would recommend CC BY-SA in all cases.

  • 1
    Doesn't this treatment rather ignore the fact that it's a database?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 14:47
  • Extracting from database tables is excerpting, which is considered an adaption.
    – techboyg5
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 13:40
  • Which would, surely, be more pertinent if databases automatically attracted copyright protection, and thus benefited from control of the adaptation right?
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 14:26

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