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This document provides a definition of "Free Cultural Works" [the Definition], which are roughly works or expressions that can be freely studied, applied, copied and modified, by anyone and for any purpose. 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." This document also describes restrictions that respect or protect the freedoms of Free Cultural Works.


Free Cultural Works

Free Cultural Works are works where

  • anyone, i.e. rich or poor, socialist or fascist, man, woman or corporation;
  • anywhere, i.e. worldwide;
  • anytime, i.e. unlimited and irrevocable and forever.

has each of the following freedoms

The freedom to study the work and apply the information

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

whether they are 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. Neither may there be a limit on who can copy the information or on where the information can be copied. The license may not, for example, forbid "Commercial' exploitation of the work.

The freedom to distribute derivative works

including modified versions (or, for physical works, a work somehow derived from the original), regardless of the intent and purpose of such modifications.

Permissible restrictions

There are certain requirements and restrictions on the use or interchange of works that we feel do not impede the essential freedom in our definition. These restrictions can therefore be included in Free Culture licenses. They are described below.

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.

In addition to the requirement for attribution the license may include restrictions to ensure the original author is not seen to be responsible for changes to the work made by others. This may include restrictions on the use of trademarks.

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 derivative works are made available under the same free license as the original.

The license may restrict the redistribution of the work as part of a compilation with other works unless the other other works are under the same license or are under another free license.

The license may require that where the work is used to provide a service over the internet then users of the service will have rights under the license, such as the right to access, copy, ammend and redistribute the source code for software.

Protection of freedoms

The license may include clauses that strive to further ensure that the ability to exercise the freedoms listed above is not restricted by technical or other means. These can include:

  • Availability of source data: Where a final work has been obtained through the compilation or processing of design information or a source file or multiple source files, the license may require that underlying source data should be available alongside the work itself under the same conditions. This can be the score of a musical composition, the models used in a 3D scene, the data of a scientific publication, the drawings and parts list of a machine, or any other such information.
  • Use of a free format: For digital files, the license may require that the format in which the work is made available should not be one that can only be read using a particular manufacturers program. Formats should be documented and should not be protected by patents, unless these patents are licensed for use in free works. While non-free formats may sometimes be used for practical reasons, a free format copy means that the information will be accessible to everyone, for ever.
  • No technical restrictions: The license may require that the work must be available in a form where no technical measures are used to limit the freedoms enumerated above.
  • No other restrictions or limitations: The license may specify that it may not be used to distribute works which are covered by legal restrictions (patents, contracts, etc.) or limitations (such as privacy rights or being for non-commercial use only) which would impede the freedoms enumerated above. This can mean that if you agree to pay a patent holder for the right to use a program then you can lose the right to distribute that program (since you have acknowledged that you think the patent applies to the programme). This is sometimes known as a Liberty or Death clause and makes it more dificult for owners of weak patents to divide the users by offering deals to some users under the threat of a costly lawsuit.

No other restrictions

Apart from these allowed restrictions, the license must not include clauses that limit essential freedoms. See Permissible restrictions

Free Culture Licenses

It is important that any work that claims to be free provides, practically and without any risk, the aforementioned freedoms.

All new works are automatically covered by existing copyright laws which default to All Rights Reserved. All Rights Reserved considerably limit what others can and cannot do with the work. Authors can make their works free by choosing among a number of legal documents known as licenses which grant users the 4 freedoms listed above.

Licenses are legal instruments through which the owner of certain legal rights may transfer these rights to third parties. Free Culture Licenses do not take rights away — they specify freedoms that are not included in a default copyright license such as All Rights Reserved. When accepted, they never limit or reduce existing user rights and exemptions under copyright law. Because the grant rights which are additional to the rights users have under copyright therefore users are not required to accept the license unless they want to exercise those additional rights.

Identifying Free Cultural Works

This is the Definition of Free Cultural Works, and when describing your work, we encourage you to make reference to this definition, as in, "This is a freely licensed work, as explained in the Definition of Free Cultural Works." If you do not like the term "Free Cultural Work," you can use the generic term "Free Content," or refer instead to one of the existing movements that express similar freedoms in more specific contexts. We also encourage you to use the Free Cultural Works logos and buttons, which are in the public domain.

Please be advised that such identification does not actually confer the rights described in this definition; for your work to be actually free, it must use one of the Free Culture Licenses or be in the public domain, or equivalent of.

Please don't use other terms to identify Cultural Works; terms which do not convey a clear definition of freedom; terms such as "Open Content" and "Open Access." These terms are often used to refer to content which is available under "less restrictive" terms than All Rights Reserved, or for works that are just "available on the Web", but they don't necessarily carry with them the freedoms referred to in this document.

Further reading


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.