I'm an illustrator and I've created an original work for commercial publication/sale that incorporates part of a photograph I sourced from Wikicommons. The photo in question has a “Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International” license.

(For context: The image is a photograph of a starry night sky, which I’ve composited into my original illustration as a background texture.)

Does the ShareAlike license mean that my new, original work would have to give up its copyrighted status to agree with the CC license of the incorporated image? And that my original work cannot now be copyright because of the rights mismatch?

I'm a bit confused by the terms of ShareAlike: do I understand correctly that it requires subsequent creators/remixers to license those derived/remixed works with a ShareAlike license?

I’m very happy to co-credit the photographer, but if using part of the image means I’d forfeit the copyright of my work, then I’d rather remove/replace the element.


1 Answer 1


If you create a new work that is derived from or based on someone else's work, it is a derivative work, and you cannot do so without permission from the original copyright holder. If the original work is made available under a CC-BY_SA 4.0 license, you have permission, but it comes with conditions. One of those is that you must attribute the original work -- you must say what work yours is based on and who created it. Another is that you must license your own derived work under the same CC-BY-SA license (or a compatible one).

This does not mean that your work is not copyrighted -- it is. But it does mean that you must grant to others the same rights that the creator of the work you used granted to you. That is what the "share alike" or SA part of the license means. if you don't like that, you should not use a work licensed under CC-BY-SA terms to create your own work.

If you publish your work but fail to grant that license to others, you are infringing the copyright of the work you used, and could be sued.

Note that if you had created a compilation rather than a derived work -- for example if you created an album of images from various sources, some of them under CC-BY-SA licenses, you would retain a copyright on the collection as a whole, and that would not have to be under CC-BY-SA.

But in this case you say that you used the other person's image as a background for your own illustration. That is creating an "adapted" or derivative work, i am fairly sure, and invokes the share alike clause of the license. You might also want to consider the different case mentioned in If I include an unmodified CC-BY-SA work in a book, does the whole book have to be CC-BY-SA?

  • Thank you so much! That’s a really clear and helpful answer :) much appreciated
    – cyanblue
    Oct 13, 2018 at 6:41

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