Looking at Pixabay's license summary, I like this:

You cannot use Content in any immoral or illegal way, especially Content which features recognisable people.

Similarly, on Pixabay's terms of service:

... You cannot use any Content on or in conjunction with anything pornographic, obscene, offensive (...), illegal, immoral, infringing, defamatory, hateful, threatening or libellous in nature ...

Switching to Flickr, I am offered to use creative commons licenses. And, it got me wondering ...

Do creative common licenses, that allow derivatives, protect against immoral use?

If it makes a difference, then I'm focusing on ShareAlike ones: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA).

  • 4
    Did you read those licenses? Is anythign unclear about them? Which part makes you wonder whether it protects against "immoral use"?
    – nvoigt
    Commented Jun 8 at 8:03
  • 1
    I suspect a general clause against "immoral" use would fall into the same category as JSON's (in)famous clause that it "shall be used for good, not evil", which generally seems to be considered unenforceable (though it doesn't seem to have been tested in court).
    – Cadence
    Commented Jun 8 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


These licences do not forbid immoral use

The closest the licences come to anything close to morality is the following:

Moral rights, such as the right of integrity, are not licensed under this Public License, nor are publicity, privacy, and/or other similar personality rights; however, to the extent possible, the Licensor waives and/or agrees not to assert any such rights held by the Licensor to the limited extent necessary to allow You to exercise the Licensed Rights, but not otherwise.

These are short, readable licences, and that is the only mention of anything close to morality in them. So these licences do not forbid immoral use.

Instead, they simply say that moral rights (a related author right with origins in civil law and that are sometimes folded into a jurisdiction's copyright legislation) are not part of what are licensed under the Creative Commons licences. They also say the Licensor waives and agrees not to assert those rights to the limited extent necessary to allow you to exercise the Licensed Rights.

  • Does this really answer the question? As @DaleM lays out below, waiving moral rights is different from permitting immoral uses.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 9 at 20:35
  • 1
    I think the edits make that clearer. Hard to prove a negative, obviously.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 9 at 22:29

Moral rights

In some jurisdictions, moral rights exist in a copyrighted work that are independent of the economic rights. These include the right of attribution and the right of non-disparaging treatment of the work.

It’s possible that these rights may be owned by different people. For example, in many jurisdictions, an employer owns the economic rights of work created by an employee, but the employee owns the moral rights. Further, in some jurisdictions, moral rights are transferable, in others, they are not.

A moral copyright holder can act to protect their rights even against the economic copyright holder or a licence. However, so long as their rights are not infringed, they have no say in how the work may be used.

Typically, unless a licence grant explicitly deals with them, moral rights are unaffected.

But I think that your question isn’t about moral rights.


What I think you are asking is: does the licence prevent someone doing something “immoral” with the software.


But then, neither do the other ones you quote (probably), because the law can only really deal with things that are illegal, morality is the domain of philosophy and religion. Or psychology, sociology, or anthropology.

That’s not to say that laws shouldn’t be moral, but:

  1. Sometimes they aren’t, and
  2. Whose morality are we talking about?

To illustrate point 1, I will just mention that chattel slavery and the holocaust were both legal in the past, and that corporal punishment, capital punishment, and female genital mutilation are still legal in some parts of the world today.

For point 2, the licensor and the licensee may have very different ideas on what is moral. For example, people living in the same society may reasonably have different positions on the morality of weapons systems, pornography, prostitution, and eating pork.

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