I have prepared a book which utilizes some information which was licensed under a Creative Commons license of which a large number of people contributed.

I believe that the use of this material requires me to release the book under Creative Commons.

There is some sample text here, but I do not know if it is complete.

  • What is a common location for such information?
  • Should additional details about the prior work and attribution of prior contributors be added somewhere?
  • 3
    Village, could you please confirm that the work you source is in fact under a CC-BY-SA license and not under one of the NC or ND designations? (There are different types of CC licenses which have different rules on use. The link you provide is for a CC-BY-SA which is one of the least restrictive and I'd just like to verify that before answering.)
    – Jed Oliver
    May 18, 2012 at 15:52
  • The source lists "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0" and also provides a link to creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0".
    – Village
    May 18, 2012 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: You must use and attribute the Creative Commons source in the exact same manner you would any other copyrighted source. That means you can’t claim the content creator’s work as your own or redistribute it in its whole for money. But citing it with attribution or any other form of Fair Use is a-ok. If you’re not sure if your use would be deemed Fair Use in a court of law, either seek permission from the source or ask a lawyer who knows.

All that Creative Commons does is provide rules for distribution and reproduction without asking for permission from the copyright holder first. In the case you cite (CC BY-SA) you can share (SA) the work in question, in its whole, with attribution (BY) so long as that platform is also a Creative Commons Forum.

But you aren’t distributing that work in its whole; you’re citing it. (Probably. If you are distributing that original work verbatim and adding onto it you can actually do that. You just have to attribute the source and you can’t do it for money.) That means you’re using it under Fair Use.

And while a court of law is the final arbiter of what is considered Fair Use, there are some guidelines you can go by. If the source is fictional then comment, criticism and parody are all (generally) considered Fair Use. If the source is non-fictional then the rules are much looser, since the dissemination of facts benefits the public. Using your source in way that benefits the public interest is almost always considered Fair Use.

So why all the hubbub about the proper use of Creative Commons? Well, on sites like Stack Exchange, and Flickr there is concern about one thing - selling your creative work after it appears on a Creative Commons site. That is where things can get a little muddled. But the general consensus is that the content creator retains ownership (copyright). That means if I post an excerpt of my book on Writers.SE I can go ahead an sell that book to a publisher for money but that publisher might hesitate to commit since they can't be guaranteed exclusivity of at least a portion of that content. That's because someone, like you, can redistribute my excerpt freely without my consent as long as you attribute the source (me & SE) and not take money for it. But I'm getting off topic.

Please don’t take anything you read here as a substitute for legal advice. If you have questions on something that you feel could potentially cause you legal troubles, contact a lawyer that specializes in copyright issues (or whatever your local designation for ‘legal representative’ is).


Citing from your link:

Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

Yes, you have to release it under Creative Commons.

Best places are the beginning and the end of the book. I would split it. I.e. mentioning at the beginning the license and putting a note that the details are at the end of the book (appendix). There you can list the former contributors. Which takes us to your next question.

Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

Yes, the attribution of prior contributors must be added.

You are using a Stack Exchange site right at the moment. Every content here is also under Creative Commons. There is a nice blog post about attribution from one of the SE founders. Have a look.

  • So if a small portion of a book was Creative Commons (like an excerpt critiqued on this site), then the entire work needs to be released as CC? Am I reading this correctly? I think you're right, but this is at odds with what this answer implies. May 18, 2012 at 15:11
  • 1
    No, @NeilFein, not if you are the copyright owner. If it is your book, and you posted an excerpt here, then it is still yours and you do not have to make it CC. But if you add a user suggestion literally, then the situation changes. But that shouldn't happen that often. May 18, 2012 at 15:20
  • But at the very least that excerpt would be CC, yes? May 18, 2012 at 15:21
  • Yes, it would. It could be used by others if they CC their work where they use it and attribute you and Writers.SE. May 18, 2012 at 15:22

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