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* Open Knowledge (cf. the [ Open Knowledge Definition])
* Open Knowledge (cf. the [ Open Knowledge Definition])
* Free Art (there is no Free Art Definition, but the [ Free Art License] is in the spirit of this definition)
* Free Art (there is no Free Art Definition, but the [ Free Art License] is in the spirit of this definition)
* [ Libre Resources] (see also the [ Libre Communites Manifesto] which is implicit in this definition and central to the free/libre movement.
* [ Libre Resources] (see also the [ Libre Communites Manifesto] which is implicit in this definition and central to the free/libre movement).
We discourage you from using the following terms, unless you want to be deliberately vague and inclusive:
We discourage you from using the following terms, unless you want to be deliberately vague and inclusive:

Revision as of 11:16, 15 September 2006

Unstable version
This is the openly editable version of the definition. Please try to find a consensus for any significant changes you make on the discussion page. If you want to work on a substantially different derivative, you can try creating a fork. See authoring process for more information.


This document defines the term "Free Content" as any work or expression which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose. It also describes certain permissible restrictions that respect or protect these essential freedoms. The definition distinguishes between free works, and free licenses which can be used to legally protect the status of a free work. The definition itself is not a license; it is a tool to determine whether a work or license should be considered "free".


Global communication networks have made it possible for hundreds of millions of human beings to have the ability to access, modify, author, publish and distribute artistic works, scientific and educational materials, commentary, reports, and documents; in short: anything that can be represented as a sequence of bits. In many cases, however, we find that copyright laws, which restrict the use of a work for decades even beyond the author's death, impede cultural and scientific progress. Worse, new tools such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) are invented to control the flow of information and eliminate freedoms that we have long taken for granted.

Works built by communities collaborating as volunteers, art created for the purpose of shared enjoyment, essential learning materials, scientific research funded through taxpayer money, and many other creative expressions are harmed by artificial scarcity. They benefit from being used freely. We therefore believe that these works should be free, and by freedom we mean:

  • the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  • the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  • the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works

For a work to be free, these freedoms should be available to absolutely anyone, anywhere. To the extent possible, they should not be restricted by the context in which the work is used.

In most countries, any original work of authorship is automatically covered by copyright law or by similar legal regimes3. Under all those regimes, authors are considered god-like "creators" and are given legal powers they can use against those who duplicate "their" content in altered or unaltered form. Only very limited freedoms are granted to others unless authors choose to explicitly relinquish some or all of these powers. To do so, authors can explicitly release their work into the public domain (no copyright)1, or can choose among a vast array of legal documents known as licenses to grant, retain or qualify their exclusive rights.

It is the goal of this definition to precisely define the essential freedoms, and to provide guidelines by which existing licenses and works can be certified as meeting this definition.

Naming freedom

This is the Free Content Definition, and when describing licenses or works, we encourage you to use the term "Free Content" and the associated logo. Please be aware that the Free Content Definition is not a license, and for your work to be free, you should either release it into the public domain, or use one of the free content licenses. If you dislike the term "Free Content", the following more specific terms are used in similar ways:

We discourage you from using the following terms, unless you want to be deliberately vague and inclusive:

  • Open Content - has no clear definition and is often used to refer to licenses that prohibit commercial use, modifications, etc.
  • Open Access - has competing definitions and competing uses, some of which prohibit commercial use, and is often used to simply refer to scientific material which is "available on the web"
  • Free Culture - while an attempt has been made to define this term in the spirit of this definition, it is generally used to refer broadly to content which is available under "less restrictive" terms than those of existing copyright laws

Defining free licenses

Licenses are agreements through which the owner of certain legal rights may transfer these rights to third parties. Free Content Licenses do not take any rights away -- they are always optional to accept, and if accepted, they grant freedoms which copyright law alone does not provide. When accepted, they never limit or reduce existing exemptions to national copyright laws.

Essential freedoms

In order to be recognized as "free" under this definition, a license must grant the following freedoms without limitation:

  • The freedom to use and perform the work: The licensee must be allowed to make any use, private or public, of the work. For kinds of works where it is relevant, this freedom should include all derived uses ("related rights") such as performing or interpreting the work. There must be no exception regarding, for example, political or religious considerations.
  • The freedom to study the work and apply the information: The licensee must be allowed to examine the work and to use the knowledge gained from the work in any way. The license may not, for example, restrict "reverse engineering".
  • The freedom to redistribute copies: Copies may be sold, swapped or given away for free, as part of a larger work, a collection, or independently. There must be no limit on the amount of information that can be copied. There must also not be any limit on who can copy the information or on where the information can be copied.
  • The freedom to distribute derivative works: In order to give everyone the ability to improve upon a work, the license must not limit the freedom to distribute a modified version (or, for physical works, a work somehow derived from the original), regardless of the intent and purpose of such modifications. However, some restrictions may be applied to protect these essential freedoms or the attribution of authors (see below).

Allowed requirements and restrictions

There are certain optional restrictions on the use or interchange of works that we do not feel impede on the essential freedoms enumerated above. These restrictions are described below.

Apart from these allowed restrictions, the license must not include clauses that limit essential freedoms. Especially, it must not specify any usage restrictions (such as prohibiting commercial use of the work, restricting use depending on political context, etc.).

Attribution of authors

Attribution protects the integrity of an original work, and provides credit and recognition for authors. A license may therefore require attribution of the author or authors, provided such attribution does not impede normal use of the work. For example, it would not be acceptable for the license to require a significantly more cumbersome method of attribution when a modified version of the licensed text is distributed.

Transmission of freedoms

The license may include a clause, often called copyleft or share-alike, which ensures that derivative works themselves remain free works. To this effect, it can for example require that all derivative works are made available under the same free license as the original.

Protection of freedoms

The license may include clauses that strive to further ensure that the work is a free work, notably by enforcing some of the conditions specified in the paragraphs below: for example, access to source code, or prohibition of technical measures restricting essential freedoms.

Defining free works

In order to be considered free content, a work must be covered by a free content license, or its legal status must provide the same essential freedoms enumerated above. It is not, however, a sufficient condition. Indeed, a specific work may be non-free in other ways that restrict the essential freedoms. We hereafter list the additional conditions in order for a work to be considered free content:

  • preferred format: The work should, whenever possible2, be made available (at least on request) in the form that is preferred for making modifications to it. For instance, for software, source code should be provided, because the binary code of a computer program is practically useless for modifying the software. For a computer-generated sound, image or film, the files that were used to create the final product (whichever form it may take) should be made available.
  • free format: For digital files, the format in which the work is made available should not be protected by patents, unless a world-wide, unlimited and irrevocable royalty-free grant is given to make use of the patented technology. While non-free formats may sometimes be used for practical reasons, a free format copy must be available for the work to be considered free.
  • no technical restrictions: The work must be available in a form where no technical measures are used to limit the freedoms enumerated above.
  • no other restrictions: The work itself must not be covered by legal restrictions (patents, contracts, etc.) which would impede the freedoms enumerated above.
  • no violations of other people's rights: A free work must not infringe upon other people's rights -- however, when in doubt, a work should be considered free until shown otherwise. A work may make use of existing legal exemptions to copyright (in order to cite copyrighted works), though only the portions of it which are unambiguously free constitute a free work.

In other words, whenever the user of a work cannot legally or practically exercise his or her basic freedoms, the work cannot be considered free and should not be called "free content."

Further reading

  • See Licenses for discussion of individual licenses, and whether they meet this definition or not.
  • See History for acknowledgments and background on this definition.
  • See the FAQ for some questions and answers.
  • See Portal:Index for topic-specific pages about free content works.


  1. Under some jurisdictions, notably some European countries, authors have inalienable moral rights and cannot completely release their works into the public domain. If you believe that you have a right to put your own works in the public domain, regardless of what the law says, you can make a declaration of public domain status which contains a safeguard clause, such as: "I, the author of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. This applies worldwide. In case this is not legally possible: I grant anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law."
  2. Sometimes, the preferable form may be lost, or the author may have used an undesirable form to begin with. In other cases, the work may have been created in a non-free format which is practically preferable to a free format; in those cases, the freedom of the format takes precedence.
  3. More than 150 countries have agreed to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which is a document specifiying a framework for copyright-like protection of works of authorship. Local regimes may differ in important ways from one another, especially on the question of moral rights (see note above). However, those regimes agree on excluding the public from almost all important rights related to works of authorship.


New versions of this definition shall be released as soon as a consensus (achieved directly or through a vote, as per the authoring process) has developed around suggested changes. Numbering shall be 0.x for initial draft releases, 1.x, 2.x .. for major releases, x.1, x.2 .. for minor releases. A minor release is made when the text is modified in ways which do not have an impact on the scope of existing or hypothetical licenses covered by this definition.