Suppose an author is intending to create a book using several (unmodified, pre-arranged/ordered) illustrations which are available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license. Is the author required to share the entire book as CC BY-SA, or can the author license the book (or text) in any desired way, provided the images are clearly still under CC BY-SA and properly attributed. Phrased differently, I'm unsure if the book as a whole constitutes an adapted material from the illustrations.

The CC BY-SA 4.0 legal text defines such adapted material as follows (emphasis added):

Adapted Material means material subject to Copyright and Similar Rights that is derived from or based upon the Licensed Material and in which the Licensed Material is translated, altered, arranged, transformed, or otherwise modified in a manner requiring permission under the Copyright and Similar Rights held by the Licensor.

It appears to me that the book is based upon the Licensed Material (the illustrations), but they are not altered, transformed, modified etc. so this would not constitute an adapted material.

Is this understanding correct? Intuitively this would be saying that the share-alike clause only applies to work which modifies, alters etc. the illustrations themselves, but not for works which simply use the illustrations. I'm unsure about that, but mainly suspicious of this interpretation since I'm not sure I'd have reached the same conclusion for the legal text of CC BY-SA 3.0.

For the record, the illustrations do form an important part of the book, and the author would not be claiming to use the images under fair use, nor am I convinced the book would count as a collection (although, unless I've misunderstood, which is very possible, collections aren't an exception to the share-alike clause of the CC BY-SA 4.0 license, only prior versions).

  • 2
    This should not be closed as a request for specific legal adviice. It is a request to understand a very significant aspect of a very widely used legal document. It is squarely on-topic here. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 12:16

1 Answer 1


As described in the question, the illustrations are not "Adapted Material" under license section 1.a, but "Licensed Material" under 1.h. Since the illustrations are not "translated, altered, arranged, transformed, or otherwise modified" in the book, it would seem that the book as a whole is not "Adapted Material". Therefore, the book as a whole would not be under the share-alike requirements.

Note that under section 2.a.4 the author has the right to make such technical modifications as are required to the Licensed Material to allow it to be used in the desired format, such as rescaling.

Section 2.a.5.A of the license says:

Every recipient of the Licensed Material automatically receives an offer from the Licensor to exercise the Licensed Rights under the terms and conditions of this Public License.

Under license section 3.a.1 the author must:

  • provide proper attribution of all Licensed Material;

  • preserve any copyright notices of the Licensed Material and various other information that may have accompanied the Licensed Material;

  • indicate and modifications of the Licensed Material;

*indicate the license used and provide a copy of or a way to find the terms of the license, such as a URL.

Taking these requirements together, the author should provide a means for readers to obtain copies of the illustrations separate from the book. This might be a URL for an online source, or perhaps an indication that scanning the illos from the book is permitted.

The author should make clear what content is and what is not covered by the CC license.

This Creative commons wiki page lists cases involving CC licenses, but the only one that seems to be even close to the facts of the question is Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, LLC US DC District court 2015. In Drauglis a photo licensed under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license was used as the cover of an atlas, which was published. The court held that the atlas was a collective work, not a derivative work, and that no violation of the license had occurred. But this ruling apparently relied on the specific provisions in the 2.0 license about collective works, which are not part of the 4.0 license. I haven't found other relevant caselaw.

This is an answer to a generic, hypothetical question, and is based solely on the facts as described in the question. It cannot take account of any facts not include in the question. It is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer, and in particular I am not your lawyer.

  • In the 3.0 license, there isn't mention of the Material being modified etc., so I think this would constitute an Adaptation (and not a collection since I'm only using work from one source (and my text is not independent to the images)). I'd be surprised if the definition of an adaptation has been loosened as I can't find anywhere CC have mentioned this, and it doesn't appear to sit well with their statement of intent for Share-Alike. Am I missing something, or is this an example where you must Share-Alike under 3.0 but not 4.0? (Please let me know if this is more appropriate as a separate Q). Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 1:58
  • @hodgenovice : The 4.0 license was significantly alered from the 3.0. Version 3 used the term "work" instead of "licensed materiel". My answer was specific to 4, as that is what was asked. CC has written about the 3.0-4 .0 changes, including changes in the definition of :"adapted". What could be done if the illustrations were under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 would be a different question, please ask it separately, and make the difference clear. Please keep the question generic and impersonal as much as possible so it hleps othre3s as well as yourself, and an answer is not specific legal advice. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 12:24

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