License for Content Remixed from Non CC Open Licensed Sources

Okay, I say sometimes that license quibbling can go on forever. But the nuances can be interesting. Or I am just trying to provoke any kind of discussion here.

Creative Commons covers this thoroughly in their certification - when you are remixing content with various CC licenses, that CC License Compatibility Chart with licenses one box axes and lots of checks and X’s

But what happens if say, I remix two different Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels, etc images? Their licenses certainly allows it… is my adaptation able to be assigned, my own CC BY? CC BY-SA??

I am pretty sure I can. But hey, maybe someone wants to weigh in. So here is my example-- in another post here in Connect I made an image by combining a Pixabay microphone image by Pexels with Pixabay lego crowd image by Eak K

Can I / should I place a CC license on it? Would it be something like (copying from the examples in the Creative Commons Certification:

Attributions: “Microphone and Lego Crowd” by Alan Levine. CC BY. Derivative of “Audio Microphone Pixabay Image” by Pexels ( and “Lego Crowd Pixabay Image” by Eak K (

And does one link to Pixabay, Unsplash licenses and mention or does saying it is from Pixabay say enough?

Come step up to the mic and quibble.

I took a quick look at the Pixabay license and it provides some restrictions (“what is not allowed”), like “Don’t sell unaltered copies of content” which could perhaps class with some of the terms of CC licenses. Interestingly they used to make use of CC0:

Yes, both Pixabay and Unsplash started with CC0 (see this summary). If I understand correctly, the changes were because their content was being harvested by other entities wholesale reproducing their collections (probably with ads inserted). Technically, I believe, anything licensed originally as CC0 before they changed can use that license.

There is one out there called Max Pixel which comes up often in google searches that is a carbon copy clone, you can take any of their URLs, swap the domain name, and find the Pixabay original. There is a bit of a slimy sideshow of public domain sites and I once found a whole raft of them that harvest other public domain photos, reverse the image, and call the collection their own.

But that’s a diversion. The remixes make it more tricky than reuse. My hunch is if I remix something from Pixabay and/or Unsplash, that this is my adaptation, and that a less restrictive CC0 license is they way to go.

I am sure its muddier than that. The safest safe route is remixing from content having clear CC licenses, e.g. from the Creative Commons Search.

I do enjoy remixing and I try to go full effort to attribute sources, whether a license requires it or not.

Sharing Kat Walsh’s (CC’s Deputy General Counsel) response here:


In general the answer to this question depends on the specifics of the license of the work you’re remixing! If some of them have terms that are not compatible with the CC license you want to use, you cannot use it (for example, some services have licenses that specify that the work cannot be distributed for some kinds of commercial purposes, or resold as is, etc.). You can license your own creative contributiosn to a remix however you want unless there is some share-alike type provision about what you can do when you build on a work. But for distributing the remixed work as a whole, a reuser will have to comply with the license terms for all of the works that go into it–the license from one of these services (Pixabay, Unsplash, etc.) and the license you apply to your own creative contribution. It is best to choose a license that makes this simple for the reuser because otherwise it becomes very complicated to reuse correctly–usually this is the one that contains all of the restrictions is the least open license, because that is what a reuser will have to do with that component anyway.

(So if you would like to make your remixed work available under an open license like CC-BY, it is best to use only source material that can be redistributed under those terms!)


Thanks Cable (and indirectly Kat). I just wish they would have stayed with CC licenses!

The Pixabay license appears to only prevent reuse of original content on stick sites or exact copies sold on merchandise, and specifically:

Under the Pixabay License you are granted an irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive and royalty free right to use, download, copy, modify or adapt the Content for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Modifications are okay. I am okay. It does leave muddier the ways I am allowed to license my own adaptations. I flip between CC BY-SA being best because it has to honor the original license, but then again, I like CC0 as being closest to the same terms.

My recommendation to the community is for reusing imagery as is in say things like presentations, publications, blog posts, using content from Pixabay, Unsplash, et al is okay to do, referencing them as an attribution I think we should always do (and model as practice) whether license requires or not.

But for doing remixes and being able to re-license, I agree the safest route is choosing from content that has a CC license, of which there is a plentiful supply (600 million is a lot), and rely on the former CC Search now Openverse Search where this is assured.

Thanks for playing the license remix game