Using CC Licenses and CC-Licensed Works: The case of collections vs. remixes/adapted works/derivative works

This is a rather unusual blog post: It’s not just about trying to get it clear what the difference between a ‘collection’ and a ‘remix’ or ‘adapted work’ or ‘derivative work’ is in regards to the Creative Commons (short: CC) – it is also an assignment (that will be graded…). And since I want the contents of this post to be correct, I might have to change some parts of it later. Please keep that in mind when you are reading this post.

You might have been in a situation somewhat similar to this: You are working on a presentation for a conference – a slide show – but you don’t want to murder your audience with walls of text. At the same time, you are neither a designer nor do you have all the time in the world to create illustrations and transition slides. So what do you do? Yes, you go online, you do an image search and pick some interesting images for backgrounds, illustrations, and transitions! And how do you this properly? By making sure that you are actually allowed to use these images. That’s where the Creative Commons Licenses come into play: they can tell you exactly what the creator of the images in question allows you to do with their images – and whatnot. You will probably have the easiest time if you can find images that are already in the Public Domain – then the copyright has expired or they have been intentionally dedicated to free use. But most commonly you will find the other licenses: CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, CC-BY-ND, CC-BY-NC, CC-BY-NC-SA, CC-BY-ND-NC. (I urge you to visit the website for every license and read the license deeds so that you know what they are about.)

In the case of your slide show presentation, you need to determine a couple of parameters before you can assess which of the images you can use – and what you can and cannot do with them.

Are you going to give your presentation publicly – or privately?

    1. If it’s a private presentation (your 3 best friends and their cat), you can do whatever you want with the images and you don’t have to read on! Just don’t upload the thing to Instagram…!
    2. If it’s a public presentation (a conference, lecture, seminar), you must be careful that you are using content that is at least CC-licensed – or you have the explicit permission of the creator(s) to use their work in this context.

Are you creating a collection?

It can be quite tricky to determine this, but the understanding of Creative Commons is that

“a collection involves the assembly of separate and independent creative works into a collective whole.” (cited from: Creative Commons Certificate for Librarians, Unit 4: Using CC Licenses and CC-Licensed Works, subsection 4.4. Remixing CC-Licensed Work, § Adaptations / Remixes vs. Collections. Canvas Training Module. January 2020)

So: plainly speaking, if you go search for pictures of snowy mountain tops and find works that are licensed under a CC-BY-SA or CC-BY-NC-SA or a CC-BY-ND – but you haven’t done anything to them but only assembled them into a slide show, you have created a collection and are thus neither obliged to share your presentation under a license that has the SA condition even though some images might have been licensed with that condition, nor do you violate the ND condition of images which have been licensed with that condition, since you have not created a derivative work. You must always correctly attribute the individual works, though. However, it is vital that you do not license your collection with a license that is incompatible with the licenses for the individual pictures.

An example can be: One of the pictures has the Non-commercial condition, you must not use the collection that contains this image for commercial purposes (i.e. sell it online). Which license is compatible with which can be quite tricky, so Creative Commons has come up with a compatibility-matrix.

CC License Compatibility Chart. Created by KennIsland, licensed under CC0, downloaded from

If you are showing the collection as a backdrop to your talk, you can do that now as long as you give proper attribution. If you have added a title page and an about slide, you can license those  – and only those! – under whichever license you want to, this will not affect the images in your collection.

Are you creating a remix/adaption/derivative?

As soon as you are making changes to the creative works of others that are not benign (like correcting spelling or changing the format from, e.g. an HTML-webpage to a .pdf-file), you have created a derivative work. If you want to share or publish this, you can only do so when the license of the work you have adapted permits this:

  • CC-BY (Attribution)
  • CC-BY-NC (Attribution, Non-commercial)
  • CC-BY-SA (Attribution, Share-alike)
  • CC-BY-NC-SA (Attribution, Non-commercial, Share-alike)

So, for example, in order to achieve a certain mood in your audience, you transform all images you found with your search from color to black-and-white and you fiddle with the contrast settings a bit to create a certain effect. Congratulations, you have made a derivative!

How can you share your presentation?

It is important to know that some CC licenses are not compatible with others. The most obvious is the SA condition: if you are adapting and sharing works under this condition you are required to share your work under the same or a compatible license. If it’s CC-BY-SA, you cannot license your adaptation under CC-BY-ND. If it’s CC-BY-NC-SA you cannot license it under CC-BY-SA because that would allow commercial use which the previous license didn’t permit.

Here is an example: Collection of Mountain Vistas

1. “Mountain and Valley”
2. Postcard from Northern Norway

[Landskap med snødekte fjell og båter. Landscape with snow-covered mountains and boats]. Created by Fredrikson, John, Bog & Kunstforlag. The National Library of Norway. Public Domain.

3. [Mountain and Cloud]

[Mountain and Cloud] “Euro1987-14-29” by eurotrip1987. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Collection of Mountain Vistas. Collection created by Annika Rockenberger, licensed under CC-BY4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

License statement

This blog post is licensed under CC-BY4.0 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.