I’m wondering about whether it might hurt to use the "no derivatives" clause when licensing a scientific article under a Creative Commons license. My impression is that nobody ever creates "derivative works" in academia, that would simply be considered as plagiarism.

A related question is the usefulness of the "share alike" clause. Note for instance that the arXiv proposes both CC BY and CC BY-SA. What is the difference? Are there any derivative works of an article that would not be plagiarism?

I’m only talking about an article, for instance a theorem and a proof in mathematics, not about any kind of computer code which one may want to reuse.

  • 3
    A powerpoint presentation explaining your paper and including the illustrations and partial text from it would be a derivative work. Nobody publishes derivative work in journals that expect original work, but people use and make a lot of derivative work in the teaching process.
    – Peteris
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:50
  • But the ND clause does not prevent myself to do derivative works of my own articles, right? And if someone else uses my figures and my text to do their own powerpoint presentation, it kind of looks like plagiarism to me, even though it is not published, don’t you think? Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 13:58
  • 4
    You own it - you can do whatever you want with it. The question becomes whether or not anyone else do something with it - even if they attribute the original work to you.
    – tonysdg
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:01
  • @GuillaumeBrunerie You would consider someone using figure from your work with proper attribution to be plagiarism?
    – MJeffryes
    Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


It is correct that it is very unlikely anyone is going to hack out chunks of a scientific paper and reuse them in another scientific paper - that would be plagarism, and very unsubtle plagarism at that. However, that's really not the main goal of allowing derivative works. (Plagarism tends to ignore copyright anyway, so worrying you've 'given permission' for it is a bit of a red herring...)

These are things that are (probably or potentially) considered derivatives in the meaning of that clause:

  • Edited or annotated extracts for teaching purposes
  • Translations of the whole or part of the paper into another language
  • Modifications of images and diagrams for reuse in other work (or in writing about your work)

Any of these, if done with appropriate permission and attribution, would not constitute plagarism - and all are fairly useful things to allow.

Some of these may be more useful in certain circumstances than others, of course.

There are also some complexities around databse licensing; depending on the jurisdiction, reusing material from a dataset could always be considered an adaptation. CC explicitly recommend against using ND clauses for datasets for this purpose. If your paper contains data tables, this aspect may be worth considering.


Let's say that you do a ground-breaking nuclear physics experiment, and the result is neatly encapsulated in a graph. Which outcome do you want?

(A) The graph starts appearing in review articles and textbooks. The captions say things like, "In a ground-breaking 2016 experiment, Jones et al. showed that ..."

(B) The graph is never reproduced in review articles or textbooks.

Keep in mind also that in the US, your unwise legal attempts to achieve outcome B may be thwarted by the fair use exception to copyright.

  • * or entirely prohibited under the Patriot Act as aiding and abetting terrorists ;) Commented Apr 22, 2016 at 16:33

As Peteris pointed out in his comment, using the "no-derivatives" clause essentially means others can share your work, but that's about it. They can't use parts of your work in presentations; they can't build off of it (and then share it); and so on.

As to whether or not that's harmful - that's probably a matter of opinion, but I'd argue it goes against the principle that in academia, sharing is (usually) a good thing.

According to the license descriptions (CC BY and CC BY-SA), the difference comes in the form of having to use the same license if you create a derivative work under CC BY-SA. This is a form of copyleft (I believe) - a way of ensuring that the work and its derivatives remains open and free for others to use (as opposed to being able to create a closed derivative work).

As for your question about derivative works and plagiarism - there's a fundamental difference between the two. Plagiarism is the wholesale copying of a work and then claiming credit for it. That's both unethical and usually illegal. Derivative works, however, are where someone modifies, builds upon, or in some other way alters your own work and gives you credit for the original work. That's a pillar of modern academia - "to stand on the shoulders of giants", as they say.

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