4.0/Treatment of adaptations
Summary = Four licenses in the CC license suite -- CC BY, CC BY-SA, CC BY-NC, and CC BY-NC-SA -- allow licensees to create adaptations of the licensed work. When an adaptation of a CC-licensed work is created and licensed, the new license only applies to the adapter’s new contributions and not the original content. The original work is licensed to the downstream user directly from the original author. This is because CC licenses do not allow sub-licensing. This nuance raises some complications with respect to the way CC licenses operate.
How to license adaptations
When a licensee creates an adaptation of a CC-licensed work, he is required to release adaptations under the same license if the original work is licensed with a ShareAlike condition. But if the the original is licensed under CC BY or CC BY-NC, there is no express requirement to license adaptations under particular terms and conditions. CC’s FAQ explain that adaptations must be released under a license at least as restrictive as the original, but this obligation is not explicitly made clear in the license.
Rather, to create an adaptation of a work licensed CC BY, the license says the adapter must attribute the original work, identify that his new work is an adaptation, and include the URI for the license under which the original is released. If the creator of the adaptation complies with these conditions, he may believe he is free to release his adaptation under any license, including CC0, or keep all rights reserved.
Similarly, to create an adaptation of a work licensed CC BY-NC, the license says the adapter must meet the same requirements as BY, but also avoid using the original work for commercial purposes. If the creator of the adaptation complies with these conditions, including using his adaptation for non-commercial purposes only, he may believe he can license his adaptation without the NC condition.
CC’s license text has been criticized on this point for the following reasons:
- Because the license text does not explicitly dictate how adaptations must be licensed in CC BY and CC BY-NC, it is open to an interpretation that allows adaptations to be released under a less restrictive license, which likely contradicts the intentions of licensors.
- If adaptations are released under a different license than the original, it complicates the license obligations of downstream users as explained in detail below.
License obligations of downstream users
As explained above, when someone creates an adaptation of a CC-licensed work and licenses it, the license on the adaptation only covers the adapter’s contributions and does not extend to the original content. To the extent the original work remains distinguishable in the adaptation, the original is licensed to the downstream user directly from the original licensor. In other words, the person using the adaptation is the licensee under two separate licenses -- one from the adapter with respect to the new elements, and one from the original creator with respect to the original.
This creates a number of complications:
- definition of “work”: because CC licensors are not obligated to identify exactly what “work” they are licensing, users of the adaptation may not be able to determine what elements of the literary or artistic work are original to the adapter
- attribution stacking: the user of the adapation must attribute the licensor of the adaptation and the licensor of the original work to the extent she uses the work in a way that implicates the copyright in both
- conflicting obligations: if the adaptation is licensed under a different license than the original work, the user of the new work may be subject to conflicting license obligations.
Proposals for 4.0
[Note: these proposals are not necessarily mutually exclusive]
- Add explicit requirement to BY and BY-NC stating that adaptations of licensed work must be released under a license with at least the same conditions as the original work.
- Require all licensors to fill in the “definition of work” to identify the elements covered by the license before applying any CC license.
- Add explicit requirement to all licenses stating that adaptations of licensed work must include clear notice that license to original work may apply to those who use the adaptation.
- Add explicit requirement to all licenses stating that adaptations of licensed work must be marked to distinguish new content from the original work.
[Please add other proposals here]
We encourage you to sign up for the license discussion mailing list, where we will be debating this and other 4.0 proposals. HQ will provide links to related email threads from the license discussion mailing list here.
Please add citations that ought inform this 4.0 issue below.
- Article 2(3) of the Berne Convention: “Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations of a literary or artistic work shall be protected as original works without prejudice to the copyright in the original work.” (emphasis added)
- Section 8(b) of the CC BY international license: “Each time You Distribute or Publicly Preform an Adaptation, Licensor offers to the recipient a license to the original Work on the same terms and conditions as the license granted to You under this License.”