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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 are works which anyone can

  • Use
  • Study
  • Copy
  • Change and Improve
  • Sell

Free Culture Licenses are legal instruments by which copyright owners grant users these freedoms and make their works into Free Cultural Works.

In addition to the 5 freedoms listed above Free Cultural licenses may also include certain restrictions. These can include:

  • Attribution - acknowledge other authors
  • Share-alike or Copyleft- derived works must be licensed

under the same or compatible license as the original

  • Protection of Freedoms - the license may require additional

permissions or information is distributed with the works (such as source

code, design drawings, musical scores, access codes) where these are 

needed to create new versions of the work.

  • Due Credit Give credit where credit is due. If it's not your

work do not claim it as yours.


Since the earliest humans appeared on planet earth they have drawn, painted, sang, carved, weaved, danced, recited, built, studied. These cultural works have been passed down from parent to child, from master to apprentice ever since, each taking the works of those that went before and passing it on to those who came after; each adding and improving and polishing and translating what they received so that human

culture could grow and develop.

Since Science has been based on an explicit philosophy of sharing information, with all scientists expected to publish and any scientist free to repeat any experiment, we have seen an unprecedented explosion of scientific knowledge.

In recent years social and technological advances make it possible for a

growing part of humanity to share cultural works that can be 

represented in digital form with other people they have never met in person. These works include artworks, scientific and educational materials, software, stories, audio and video recordings. Many communities have formed to exercise these new possibilities and create a

wealth of collectively reusable works. As these collaboratively 

produced works grow in commercial value there is ever greater pressure to monetise these works, to erect toll gates so that the community who collaborated to create these works can be charged to access them.

At different time over the years Copyright and Patent legislation has been introduced as a way of restricting and taxing that free flow of information - as a way of rewarding particularly innovative new contributions or favoured supporters of the government of the time. These laws have been used to create the tollgates mentioned above.

Free Culture licenses have been created to provide a legal framework which reflects these collaborative working practices, providing a simple way for people to share with others the rights needed

for such collaborations to happen, so that users can collaborate and 

work together to create and improve Free Culture Works and ensure

that these works stay free.

Free Cultural Works

Free Cultural Works are works where

  • anyone, i.e. rich or poor, socialist or fascist, man, woman or


  • anywhere, i.e. worldwide;
  • anytime, i.e. unlimited and irrevocable and forever.

has each of the following freedoms

The freedom to use and perform the work

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 or commercial considerations.

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


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, amend 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

  • 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 restricted 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|existing movements]] that express similar freedoms in more specific contexts. We also encourage you to use the [[logos and buttons|Free Cultural Works logos and buttons]], which are in the public


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.

Availability of legal instruments

Can in anyone can use, study, copy, change and improve (summary) means anyone can realistically

make his case in court that such freedom was granted. It implies that 

where a work is made free by way of a free cultural license, the legal instrument, by which the copyright or other right owner grants the license, must also be available to anyone in the legal form that is legally binding in the relevant legal context. The legal instrument should not be jealously and secretly kept by the first licensee.

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 cultural


[ Wikipedia on Free/Libre Knowledge]

Free Knowledge]


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.