The terms "Free Content", "Free Information" and "Free Work" are defined by this document as covering only those works which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone, for any purpose. The only restrictions allowable within the scope of this definition are those which effectively protect these essential freedoms, in addition to a requirement of author attribution. There is a list of licenses which meet the terms of this definition.
- the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- the freedom to redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information
- the freedom to make improvements or other changes, and to release modified copies
To the extent possible through copyright law, these freedoms should be given to anyone, regardless of their profession, their beliefs, their country of origin, or any other criteria. They should also not be restricted because of the context in which the work is used.
Any original work of authorship that is in tangible form is copyrighted. Under copyright law, you are considered the God-like "creator" of that particular sequence of bits, and you are given the legal power to punish those who duplicate it in altered or unaltered form. None of the freedoms above are given to others unless you choose to explicitly relinquish some or all of the powers given to you. To do so, you can explicitly release your work into the public domain (no copyright), or choose among a complex array of so-called licenses to grant additional rights to others.
Not all licenses grant the freedoms enumerated above. For example, some popular licenses forbid the creation of derivative works, or the commercial use of a work. Some licenses are even more specific. They limit usage of the work to particular regions of the world, or to relative quantities of information (sampling).
It is our position that such licenses cannot truly be called "free". The logical outcome of the restrictions they impose is that works under these licenses can no longer be freely shared, freely modified, freely aggregated, freely combined, and freely provided through any channel. They stand outside the body of work which is not impeded by these restrictions. They are philosophically, and often legally, incompatible with the licensing options used by the growing movement that refers to its works as "free content", "free works", or "free information". Indeed, depending on the nature of the work, it may even be unethical to deny any of the enumerated freedoms above.
Any license which requires the term "free" to be significantly qualified ("it is free, but you cannot ..") can only mean freedom in the sense of "gratis, without cost". It can never mean that all essential freedoms are present. It is therefore the goal of this definition to precisely define the essential freedoms, and to provide guidelines by which existing licenses can be certified as meeting this definition.
This definition only covers freedom in terms of copyright law; usage of a work may be restricted by other laws.
Naming and versioning
You may refer to this definition as the "Free Content Definition", the "Free Information Definition" or the "Free Work Definition". Consequently, you may call a work covered by this definition "free content", "free information", "free info", or "free work" (the terms may or may not be capitalized). Which name should you use? summarizes some arguments for and against the three names.
Recommended and required criteria
- The freedom to study and apply the information: The licensee must not be restricted by clauses which limit their right to examine, alter or apply the information. The license may not, for example, restrict "reverse engineering", and it may not limit the application of knowledge gained from the work.
Allowed requirements and restrictions
Protection of freedoms
The license may include clauses that strive to protect the essential freedoms of the work, such as:
- no technical restrictions: a clause prohibiting the use of effective technical measures to prevent copies of the work
However, the license must not limit the licensee's actions beyond those which may have a plausible and direct impact on the essential freedoms of the work or its derivatives. Explicitly, it must not limit commercial use of the work.
Authors of licenses should make an effort to gradually make licenses which share the same philosophical roots and legal principles compatible with each other to ensure that works under these licenses can be combined and aggregated freely. This may be accomplished by altering the terms of the license (e.g. by removing a restriction which the other license does not have), or by adding migration clauses which allow the use of the licensed work under the now compatible license.
See Licenses for discussion of individual licenses, and whether they meet this definition or not.
This definition was inspired by the Free Software Definition. Helpful feedback was provided during the authoring process by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation, Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons, Benjamin 'Mako' Hill, and Angela Beesley.