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Background

If an artist releases their artwork under a Creative Commons license, they have the option to permit a user of the work to create derivatives of said work. Assuming the artist uses the minimum CC-BY, the reuser would be permitted to

distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator.

Tracing is a practice where a reuser creates an artwork by manually copying the original artwork or certain features of it (for example, tracing the linework but not the colouring.) One use of tracing that concerns the art community is where a tracing is presented unattributed or as a wholly original work. Because of this, many artists do not wish to have their work traced at all due to fear of having their work plagiarized.

Questions

  1. An article available here seems to suggest that a CC licensed work enables reusers to perform tracing.

Creative Commons Licenses

If the source image is released under a Creative Commons license and the person tracing the image adheres to the specific terms of that license, the tracing may be considered legitimate.

Is this statement accurate? Does a CC license enable the tracing of the licensed work?

  1. Presume that the artist does not wish for their work to be traced. If they accomplished this by using a CC BY-ND, then the reuser is restricted through the No Derivatives term:

If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.

Would the artist need to restrict the reuser's freedom to build upon the work entirely in order to prevent tracing? If the artist were interested in allowing derivatives but not tracing, would they be able to use a CC license to accomplish this?

3 Answers 3

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Yes, CC-BY and CC-BY-SA both permit tracing.

However, one important detail not clearly noted in the other answers so far is that legally a tracing is a derivative work, and both CC-BY and CC-BY-SA require derivative works to be marked as such and the original author to be credited. (CC-BY-SA additionally requires derivative works to be released under the same license.) Quoting the CC-BY 4.0 deed linked above:

Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

(For the legal details, see section 3 of the CC-BY 4.0 legal code.)

Thus, your scenario where "a tracing is presented unattributed or as a wholly original work" is a clear and unambiguous violation of the CC-BY(-SA) license, and thus also a copyright violation. Thus, CC-BY protects against that threat just as well as CC-BY-ND (or even not using a Creative Commons license at all).

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  • Thank you to everyone for your answers! I will accept this answer because I believe it is most applicable in the specific context of artwork and tracing. But thank you to Odin Laufeyson and herisson for your contributions!
    – Malle Yeno
    Jan 19 at 14:41
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The minimum CC-BY permits tracing and requires attribution.

None of the six CC license types seems to specifically distinguish between tracing and other methods of creating a derivative work, so I don't think it is possible to accomplish the desired goal using a Creative Commons license.

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Generally, these licenses allow the work to be used for anything, including tracing. But the license has to allow derivative works for this be possible.

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