Free content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, artwork, or other creative content having no significant legal restriction relative to people's freedom to use, distribute copies, modify, and to distribute derived works of the content.[1] It is distinct from open content in that it can be modified, whereas one might not have that ability with content that is simply "open" and not "free".

Free content encompasses all works in the public domain and also those copyrighted works whose licenses honor and uphold the freedoms mentioned above. Because copyright law in most countries by default grants copyright holders monopolistic control over their creations, copyrighted content must be explicitly declared free, usually by the referencing or inclusion of licensing statements from within the work.

Though a work which is in the public domain because its copyright has expired is considered free, it can become non-free again if the copyright law changes.[2]


Traditional copyrightEdit

Main article: Copyright

The copyright symbol

Traditionally, copyright is a legal concept, which grants the author or creator of a work legal rights to control the duplication and public performance of his or her work. In many jurisdictions, this is limited by a time period after which the works then enter the public domain. During the time period of copyright the author's work may only be copied, modified, or publicly performed with the consent of the author, unless the use is a fair use.

Traditional copyright control, when compared to free content, is limiting in several ways. It limits the use of the work of the author to those who can, or are willing to, afford the payment of royalties to the author for usage of the authors content, or limit their use to fair use. Secondly it limits the use of content whose author cannot be found. Finally it creates a perceived barrier between authors by limiting derivative works, such as mashups and collaborative content. Copyleft is based on the belief that the temporary publishing monopoly that traditional copyright created in order to encourage science and learning is not actually the best way to promote science and learning.

Public domainEdit

Main article: Public domain

A public domain symbol

The public domain is a range of creative works whose copyright has expired, or was never established; as well as ideas and facts[nb 1] which are ineligible for copyright. A public domain work is a work whose author has either relinquished to the public, or no longer can claim control over, the distribution and usage of the work. As such any person may manipulate, distribute, or otherwise utilize the work, without legal ramifications. A work released into the public domain, or under a very liberal license, by its author may be referred to as "copycenter".[3]


Main article: Copyleft

The copyleft symbol

Copyleft is a play on the word copyright and describes the practice of using copyright law to remove restrictions on distributing copies and modified versions of a work. The aim of copyleft is to use the legal framework of copyright to enable non-author parties to be able to reuse and, in many licensing schemes, modify content that is created by an author. Unlike public domain or other non-copyleft free work, the author still maintains copyright over the material, however the author has granted a non-exclusive license to any person to distribute, and often modify, the work. Copyleft licenses require that any derivative works be distributed under the same terms, and that the original copyright notices be maintained.

A symbol commonly associated with copyleft is a reversal of the copyright symbol, facing the other way; the opening of the C points left rather than right. Unlike the copyright symbol, the copyleft symbol does not have a codified meaning.[4]


Projects that provide free content exist in several areas of interest, such as software, academic literature, general literature, music, images, video, and engineering.

Technology has reduced the cost of publication and reduced the entry barrier sufficiently to allow for the production of widely disseminated materials by individuals or small groups. Projects to provide free literature and multimedia content have become increasingly prominent owing to the ease of dissemination of materials that is associated with the development of computer technology. Such dissemination may have been too costly prior to these technological developments.


In media, which includes textual, audio, and visual content, free licensing schemes such as some of the licenses made by Creative Commons have allowed for the dissemination of works under a clear set of legal permissions. Not all of the Creative Commons’ licenses are entirely free: their permissions may range from very liberal general redistribution and modification of the work to a more restrictive redistribution-only licensing. Since February 2008, Creative Commons licenses which are entirely free carry a badge indicating that they are "approved for free cultural works".[5] Repositories exist which exclusively feature free material provide content such as photographs, clip art, music,[6] and literature.[7]


Main article: Open source

The logo of the Open Source Initiative, an organization dedicated to promoting open source software


The logo of the Free Software Foundation, the organization founding the principles of free software.

Free software, often referred to as open source software, is a maturing technology with major companies utilising free software to provide both services and technology to both end users and technical consumers. The ease of dissemination has allowed for increased modularity, which allows for smaller groups to contribute to projects as well as simplifying collaboration.

Open source development models have been classified as having a similar peer-recognition and collaborative benefit incentives that are typified by more classical fields such as scientific research, with the social structures that result from this incentive model decreasing production cost.[8]

Given sufficient interest in a given software component, by using peer-to-peer distribution methods, distribution costs of software may be minimized, removing the burden of infrastructure maintenance from developers. As distribution resources are simultaneously provided by consumers, these software distribution models are scalable, that is the method is feasible regardless of the number of consumers. In some cases, free software vendors may use peer-to-peer technology as a method of dissemination.[9]

Engineering and technologyEdit

Free content principles have been translated into fields such as engineering, where designs and engineering knowledge can be readily shared and duplicated, in order to reduce overheads associated with project development. Open design principles can be applied in engineering and technological applications, with projects in mobile telephony, small-scale manufacture,[10] the automotive industry,[11][12] and even agricultural areas.[13]

Technologies such as distributed manufacturing can allow computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided design techniques to be able to develop small-scale production of components for the development of new, or repair of existing, devices. Rapid fabrication technologies underpin these developments, which allow end users of technology to be able to construct devices from pre-existing blueprints, using software and manufacturing hardware to convert information into physical objects.


Main article: Open access (publishing)
Open Access logo PLoS white

The open access logo, originally designed by the Public Library of Science

In academic work, free works are still a niche phenomenon, owing to the difficulty of establishing a fully qualified peer review process. This notwithstanding, authors may see open access publishing as a method of expanding the audience that is able to access their work to allow for greater impact of the publication.[14][15] Despite the difficulties, groups such as the Public Library of Science still provide capacity for review and publishing of free works, and some universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have adopted open access publishing by default.[16] In traditional journals, alternatives such as delayed free publications or charging researchers for open access publishing are occasionally used.[17][18] Some funding agencies require academic work to be published in the public domain as a grant requirement.[19][20] Open content publication has been seen as a method of reducing costs associated with information retrieval in research, as universities typically pay to subscribe for access to content that is published through traditional means [21][22][23] whilst improving journal quality by discouraging the submission of research articles of reduced quality.[23]

For teaching purposes, some universities provide freely available course content, such as lecture notes, video resources and tutorials. This content is distributed via internet resources to the general public. Publication of such resources may be either by a formal institution wide program,[24] or alternately via informal content provided by individual academics or departments.


Main article: Open source governance

Technological developments have enabled distribution of otherwise inaccessible documentation in government to be made directly available to citizens from any location for minimal cost. This allows information on lawmaking, local and state government to be analysed by a government's constituents. Although previously information has been in the form of media releases for public relations purposes, documentation that may be of use to citizens and businesses has, in some jurisdictions, been mandated to be released by default[25]. This is in contrast to laws such as the freedom of information act, or their local equivalent, which may make documentation available only on request, rather than mandate explicit publication. Such a stance has been cited as an aid to the reduction in complexity associated with government processes, as well as aiding a reduction in corruption.[26]


A subset of free licenses are sometimes referred to as viral copyright licenses or copyleft licenses. This applies to licenses that contain a clause stating that any works derived from a free work must themselves be free when distributed, usually under the same license. This requirement is criticized as legally constraining and therefore rendering the use of the "free" appellation inappropriate. Non-copyleft licenses are often referred to as more "permissive" licenses.

An example of one of these "viral licenses" is the GNU General Public License, which is often applied to computer programs. The viral nature of these licenses are seen as applying the ideology of the original licensor on subsequent redistributors. The criticism stems over a disagreement over the scope of freedom that licenses should attempt to enforce. That is whether licenses should aim to provide absolute freedom (to do whatever you please) versus an inalienable freedom (freedom to do anything but take away the freedom of another).

See alsoEdit


  1. Stallman, Richard (November 13, 2008). "Free Software and Free Manuals". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  2. Anderson, Nate (July 16, 2008). "EU caves to aging rockers, wants 45-year copyright extension". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 8, 2008. 
  3. Raymond, Eric S.. "Copycenter". The Jargon File. Retrieved August 9, 2008. 
  4. Hall, G. Brent (2008). Open Source Approaches in Spatial Data Handling. Springer. p. 29. ISBN 354074830X. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  5. Linksvayer, Mike (February 20, 2008). "Approved for Free Cultural Works". Creative Commons. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  6. "iRate Radio". Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  7. "Gutenberg:No Cost or Freedom?". Project Gutenberg. April 23, 2007. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  8. Mustonen, Mikko (PDF). Copyleft – the economics of Linux and other open source software. Discussion Paper No. 493. Department of Economics, University of Helsinki. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  9. Pawlak, Michel; Bryce, Ciarán; Laurière, Stéphane (May 29, 2008). "The Practice of Free and Open Source Software Processes" (PDF). Rapport de recherche. inria-00274193, version 2 (Institut national de recherche en informatique et en automatique (INRIA)) N° 6519 (April 2008). ISSN 0249-6399. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  10. Hendry, Andrew (March 4, 2008). "RepRap: An open-source 3D printer for the masses". Computerworld Australia. The Industry Standard. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  11. Honsig, Markus (January 25, 2006). "The most open of all cars" (in German). Technology Review. Heinz Heise. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  12. "Australian drive for green commuter cars". Retrieved 100613. 
  13. Stewart, Jr., C. Neal (December 2005). "Open-source Agriculture" (PDF). ISB News Report. Information Systems for Biotechnology (ISB). Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  14. Andrew, Theo (October 30, 2003). "Trends in Self-Posting of Research Material Online by Academic Staff". Ariadne (UKOLN) (37). ISSN 1361-3200. Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  15. Key Perspectives. "JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report" (PDF). Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  16. "MIT faculty open access to their scholarly articles". MIT news. 20 March 2009. 
  17. "Policy of the Society for General Microbiology towards author self-archiving on PubMed Central and institutional and other repositories". Retrieved April 10, 2009. 
  18. "OnlineOpen". Retrieved April 10, 2009. 
  19. Haslam, Maryanne. "NHMRC Partnership Projects – Funding Policy" (PDF). National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Retrieved March 22, 2009. 
  20. "Policy on Enhancing Public Access to Archived Publications Resulting from NIH-Funded Research". Retrieved July 12, 2009. 
  21. Mayor, Susan (April 19, 2003). "Libraries face higher costs for academic journals". BMJ: British Medical Journal (BMJ Group) 326 (7394): 840. 
  22. "AMS Journal price survey". Retrieved May 23, 2009. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Costs and business models in scientific research publishing: A report commissioned by the Wellcome Trust". Retrieved May 23, 2009. 
  24. "About OpenCourseWare". Retrieved April 10, 2009. 
  25. "Motion on Notice: Open Data, Open Standards and Open Source". /
  26. Template:Cite journal=International Journal of Public Administration


Further reading Edit

External linksEdit

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