According to Stallman, the goal of free software was to give individuals the freedom to use, study, copy, modify and distribute software to others.
Copyleft builds on this concept to ensure that free software remains truly free, even when modified or combined with other software.
The origin of Copyleft
Richard Stallman first coined the term “copyleft” in 1985, when he wrote the GNU General Public License (GPL).
The GPL was created to safeguard the freedom of software users and to allow software to be freely shared by the public.
Stallman believed that software should be treated as a tool for sharing knowledge and ideas, not as a commodity to be sold for profit.
The GPL states that anyone can distribute or copy the program, but must also provide the same rights to others.
GPL licences are enforceable and legally binding, and protect software from becoming proprietary software, which would limit and restrict users from making changes or sharing code.
Copyleft versus copyright
Copyright is a legal mechanism that safeguards the rights of an artist, author or creator over his or her work.
Copyright laws are established to protect a creator’s intellectual property and to ensure that the creator controls how his or her work is used and distributed.
Copyleft, on the other hand, encourages free access to the work while guaranteeing others the freedom to modify and share it.
Copyleft is often seen as a more flexible and inclusive alternative to traditional copyright.
It allows creators to share their work with others without fear of losing control over it, and encourages collaboration and innovation by making it easier for people to build on each other’s ideas.
The Copyleft philosophy
The basic philosophy of copyleft is that knowledge, information and software should be accessible to all, opposing the notion of proprietary software and encouraging collaboration and the exchange of ideas.
Copyleft believes that knowledge and information should be free goods, available to all, without restrictions of any kind.
In essence, copyleft is about creating a more open and democratic society, where everyone has access to the tools and resources they need to create and innovate.
It is about breaking down barriers and promoting cooperation, rather than competition, as a driving force for progress and development.
By adopting copyleft, we can create a world where knowledge and information are freely shared, and where creativity and innovation are not limited by the constraints of proprietary software or copyright law.
It is the vision of a more just and equitable society, in which everyone has the opportunity to participate and contribute to the common good.
How does copyleft work?
Copyleft works by imposing certain conditions on the authors’ work.
These conditions specify that the work is free to use, modify and distribute, but a person cannot change the terms or prevent others from enjoying the same rights.
Copyleft licences are usually enforced through legal mechanisms and, like traditional copyright law, infringements can have legal consequences.
Copyleft is often used in the context of software development, but can be applied to any creative work.
The most recognised Copyleft licences
The General Public License (GPL)
The most popular copyleft licence is the General Public Licence (GPL).
The GPL was the first licence to implement copyleft and has stimulated the growth of the free software movement. The GPL applies to software and allows other users to modify and distribute it under the same conditions.
Under the GPL, any modifications made to the software must also be licensed under the GPL.
This ensures that the software remains free and open for others to use and modify.
Share-alike licences are another form of copyleft.
They require that any modified work based on the original share-alike work be subject to the same terms as the original licence.
This means that the modification can be distributed, but must be licensed and treated in the same way as the original work.
These licences are often used for creative works such as music, art and literature.
How does Copyleft apply to a work?
Applying copyleft to a work is relatively easy.
You can use the GPL or other existing copyleft licences, or create your own.
For a work to be considered copyleft, it must be explicitly licensed under a copyleft licence. In most cases, this requires adding the distribution terms to the copyright notice of the work.
By using copyleft, you can ensure that the work remains free and open for others to use and modify. This can help promote collaboration and innovation, as well as ensuring that the work is accessible to a wider audience.
Advantages of Copyleft
The use of copyleft licences has several advantages:
Encouraging collaboration and innovation. Copyleft licences encourage collaboration and information sharing. This allows people to build on previous works without violating copyright laws, which can lead to better and more innovative ideas.
Protecting users’ freedoms. Copyleft licences protect users from proprietary software and other restrictions. In this way, users are guaranteed the freedom to use, modify and share the work without limitations.
Ensuring long-term access to information. Copyleft licences ensure that the knowledge and ideas contained in the work are freely accessible to all for a long time. This is because the work cannot become proprietary and be closed to the public.
Criticisms and limitations of Copyleft
Copyleft has been a revolutionary concept in the world of free software and Creative Commons. However, like any other concept, it has its own set of criticisms and limitations that users should be aware of.
Compatibility problems with other licences. One of the main limitations of copyleft licences is that they are not always compatible with other licences. This can limit how and where the work can be used. For example, the GPL cannot be combined with the MIT or BSD licences. This can be a major problem for developers who want to use a copylefted work in combination with other software that is licensed under a different licence.
Possible disincentives for commercial use. The viral nature of copyleft licences can sometimes discourage commercial use. This is because less control is available over the final product than would be allowed under proprietary licensing structures. The copyleft licence requires any derivative works to be licensed under the same terms, which means that any commercial use of the work would also have to be licensed under the same terms. This can be a major problem for companies wishing to use copylefted works in their products.
The complexity of copyleft licensing. Finally, copyleft licensing is a complex process that some may find difficult to manage. It requires a level of knowledge of copyright law and the different forms of licensing that exist. Copyleft licensing also requires the licensee to meet certain requirements, such as providing attribution and making source code available. The process of enforcing copyleft licences can also be time-consuming and expensive for creators.
In conclusion, although copyleft licensing has its limitations and criticisms, it has played an important role in promoting the use and development of open source and Creative Commons software.
It has helped create a culture of collaboration and sharing, and has enabled developers and creators to build on each other’s work to create better products and services.
Copyleft in practice
Featured copyleft projects
Notable copyleft projects include the GNU/Linux operating system, Wikipedia and Creative Commons.
These projects have contributed significantly to the development and exchange of knowledge and information in the world.
GNU/Linux is a free and open source operating system widely used on servers, supercomputers and mobile devices.
Wikipedia is a collaborative online encyclopaedia edited by volunteers from around the world.
Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that provides free legal tools for creators to share their work with the world.
These projects have been successful in part because they allow collaboration and innovation without the restrictions of traditional copyright laws.
By allowing users to freely modify and distribute the work, copyleft licences foster a culture of sharing and creativity.
Copyleft in the creative arts
Copyleft also applies to the creative arts.
It allows sharing, remixing and modifying creative works such as music, videos and art without asking the creator’s permission.
Examples of copyleft advocates in the creative arts include the Transmission Collective and artist Nina Paley.
The Transmission Collective is a group of musicians who use copyleft licenses to share their music with the world. They believe that music should be accessible to everyone, and that copyleft licences help to achieve this goal.
The future of Copyleft licences
Copyleft is an evolving form of licensing that is gaining popularity as a response to the limitations of traditional copyright law.
Some predict that it will continue to become more popular in the future as more people become aware of its benefits as an alternative to traditional copyright law.
One of the main advantages of copyleft licences is that they encourage collaboration and innovation.
By allowing users to freely modify and distribute a work, copyleft licences create a culture of sharing and creativity. This can lead to new and innovative works that would not have been possible under traditional copyright laws.
Another benefit of copyleft licences is that they promote access to information and knowledge. By allowing works to be freely shared and distributed, copyleft licences help ensure that everyone has access to the information and knowledge they need to succeed.
In general, copyleft licences are a powerful tool for promoting collaboration, innovation and access to information.
As more people become aware of its benefits, copyleft licensing is likely to continue to grow in popularity and become an important alternative to traditional copyright law.
Copyleft is a powerful tool to ensure that knowledge and information remain accessible to all.
Although it has its limitations, it offers a unique approach to copyright law that encourages sharing, collaboration and innovation.
Given these benefits, it is essential that content creators, users and legislators continue to explore how copyleft can be used to protect and promote the public interest.
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