If I want to use images licensed under the creative commons cc-by-sa license, how do I have to share the derivative work in order to comply with the license of the original image?

In particular, how is sharealike compatible with commercial use?

If I use cc-by-sa images in a design that I want to print on a shirt and sell, it seems like that should be acceptable because the license does not prohibit commercial use -- However, how would I have to share the work? Is my design considered the only derivative work in this case, or would I have to consider that in printing a shirt, a new work is created which also must be licensed under the same license? If so, does this mean that the shirt cannot be sold?

  • Interesting question, but is it not off topic here?
    – Mensch
    Feb 20, 2013 at 16:15
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    @Kurt Questions like this one appear frequently in here and in SO, because they don't have any other space, and because they are closely related to what we do every day. These are things we need to know to work, so I don't think it's offtopic. It might be difficult to answer, and because we are not lawyers nothing guarantees the things posted here are correct. Keeping that in mind, if personal experiences are of use, it's welcomed.
    – Yisela
    Feb 20, 2013 at 19:16
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    The new place for those question seems like: opensource.stackexchange.com Sep 25, 2015 at 18:51

2 Answers 2


I'm not a lawyer, but there are a few things here that any designer who's worked with CC material can clear up.

does this mean that the shirt cannot be sold?

Not at all. Plenty of people sell physical goods containing open-licensed intellectual property (e.g. open source software on a disc for convenience or installed as a service, books that are out of copyright...).

The key thing is, you can sell your shirt, but you can't stop others printing and selling the same design.

The licence also stops other people using your design and trying to stop you using it (this is what these sort of licences were created for, and why they're better than no licence).

It applies to the intellectual property of the design. If you've bought some shirts and some ink, and printed a CC design on them, those shirts are still your property, so you can sell them.

You just can't stop other people copying you.

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    What I am having trouble wrapping my head around is how you need to make your derivative work available when building off of a sharealike work. Since my derivative work would need to also have a cc-by-sa license, presumably anyone should have access to my work in its entirety to use and modify under that license. If I were to sell my design on Cafepress or the like, would I need to provide a link to my design files in the description, in addition to attributions for the works my design built off of? What it comes down to is: How does one have to make the new work available?
    – T Holdaway
    Feb 20, 2013 at 19:32
  • I'd suggest editing a note along those lines into the question, @THoldaway. Of course, GNU/Linux is often distributed in compiled form on a CD, with no accompanying offer of source code. And that too is, strictly speaking, illegal.
    – TRiG
    Sep 25, 2013 at 22:09
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    @THoldaway: Unlike, say, the GPL, the CC licenses don't contain any requirement to distribute the "source code" of derivative works. So you don't really need to distribute anything but the T-shirt itself. You do need to comply with the attribution and licensing requirements; depending on how one interprets the license, you might need to print this information on the shirt itself, or maybe on a label sold with the shirt. Jun 9, 2014 at 10:55
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    @THoldaway asked analogous question at: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/297894/… Sep 22, 2015 at 12:27

"Share Alike" refers to the license, not the cost.

From Creative Commons' site

The Share Alike aspect requires all derivatives of a work to be licensed under the same (or a compatible) license as the original. Thus, if a person were to use parts of a BY-SA movie to create a new short film that new short film would also need to be licensed as BY-SA.

Therefore, since the design is licensed as Attribution-ShareAlike, commercial considerations don't factor in. You seem familiar with Creative Commons, so you probably know that there's a "non-commercial" element to the license that can be added if the creator of the original work didn't want you selling derivatives.

I am not a lawyer, but I would imagine that your attribution and notification of the CC-BY-SA license of the derived work would have to be on the design somewhere.

  • Maybe what I don't understand is what it means for me to distribute my derivative work under the same license. Does that mean I make my design files available on a website like wikimedia commons, or at whatever site I am selling my product? Do I just have to give the files to anyone who asks? Or would I not have to make the files of my design available at all, but anyone could make their own reworking of the original work that looked just like mine? If I am selling a product featuring the derived work, in what format do I also have to make the derived work available?
    – T Holdaway
    Feb 21, 2013 at 1:24
  • @THoldaway Again, IANAL, but check out this link to see if it answers your questions. Also, I don't think you're obligated to make it freely available, because it turns into a zero-sum game of "how freely available?" But, if someone requested the work to remix, you might have to comply; I think other licenses like the GPL are like that. Sorry I can't give you a complete answer on this, but I hope this helps.
    – Brendan
    Feb 21, 2013 at 2:53

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