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If a website uses pictures on some pages that are under cc-by-sa. The images have been modified slightly to fit into the page. What is the derivative work?

  • only the images themselves
  • only the part of the page that uses the image (i.e article copy, but not navigation, logo, etc.)
  • the whole page
  • the whole website

Or maybe there is no derived work at all and it is a collection? Can anyone shed some light on this?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

I don't think you'll find many lawyers here. Your best bet is to read the law, and try to stay as far away from the lines as possible:

In the United States, the Copyright Act defines "derivative work" in 17 U.S.C. § 101:

A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.


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As I understand it, for cc-by-sa derivative is defined as "If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license." My concern is "build upon". – Ludwig Weinzierl Jul 15 '09 at 18:37
To be safe, I would just designate a part of your site (assuming you're plans are for a site) and make a small mention to the technologies, or authors of the items you used/built-upon. Better safe-than-sorry in this type of area. – Sampson Jul 15 '09 at 18:44

Usually, the derived work is just the piece (image) itself. If you're using other content from the page as well, then it would apply to the entire page. If your site is based around the image, you might have more trouble than if the image is just there to complement your existing content.

Of course, it would be best to consult a lawyer.

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Playing the devil's advocate I could say: If you use my image on a your page you build upon my work and the whole page needs to be by-sa. – Ludwig Weinzierl Jul 15 '09 at 18:43
You could say that, but you would be wrong. – Andy Mikula Jul 15 '09 at 23:16


  1. Need to ask lawyer, and

  2. Need to provide more information. For example, if you just plopped an image in after writing the text ("hmmm, I'm talking about apples, I should go find a picture of a nice shiny red one...") that's quite different than "hmm, I have a neat image, let me design a page around it, to display and highlight it". The first case clearly doesn't make the text a derivative work; I don't know if the second case would be a derivative work; see point (1).

IANAL, and I'm not even going to play one on the Internet today.

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