Let's say I want to publish a book which contains an extract of a Wikipedia article. I don't want to modify the extract in any way, I just want to copy it into my book.

Wikipedia text seems to be distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. It is very clear that I need to provide credit to Wikipedia's authors, which is no problem. It is also clear that any derivative work needs to be distributed under a compatible license. So if I would make any alterations to the extract, I would need to publish this new version under such a license.

Now I wonder if my whole book would be considered a derivative work. And if so, would this mean that I need to publish my whole book under a compatible license?


1 Answer 1


You cannot create derivative works without permission of the copyright holder (even if you create it and keep it to yourself). Further, you cannot distribute derivative works without permission of the copyright holder. That's a general principle that always applies.

Since there is a license, you need to read that license carefully and determine under which conditions you have permission to create derivative works, and to distribute them.

Your book would be considered a derivative work. In some situations, like commenting on a work, parody and some others, you would have a defense if you are quoting tiny parts of the work. But generally, if you find it unfair that your 200 page needs to be licensed because you used two pages from an open source source, you either do without those two pages, or you find the author and ask for permission under a different license.

Note that facts are not copyrightable. So if the wikipedia page contains facts and isn't just made up, you can read it ten times, memorise all the facts, and maybe tell the facts to someone who you pay to write a similar article.

  • Follow-up question: I don't think I personally have any problem releasing my book under the ShareAlike license. The problem is that I think I can't. In my book, I'm using images and other graphical elements which I have purchased specifically for my book. So obviously, I can't publish them under the ShareAlike license, since I have no right to do so. Do you think it would be possible to release the book under the ShareAlike license, but make it clear that these specific elements are not published under that license, and still be compatible?
    – Putokas
    Nov 17, 2015 at 7:59
  • Actually, I think I will ask this question separately.
    – Putokas
    Nov 17, 2015 at 13:14
  • The follow-up is now asked here: Is it possible to license only parts of a derivative work?
    – Putokas
    Nov 17, 2015 at 13:27
  • Note that there are ways to circumvent the license by making it a proper quote in scientific text.
    – Trish
    Oct 15, 2020 at 18:14
  • "You cannot create derivative works without permission of the copyright holder (even if you create it and keep it to yourself)" - really? That seems unconstitutional or something (in countries that have that). You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own stuff in your own home.
    – user253751
    Feb 16, 2021 at 9:13

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