free content


May 28, 2022

Free content or free information is any type of functional work, artwork, other creative content that meets the definition of a free cultural work. A free cultural work is one that has no significant legal restriction on the freedom of the people: to use the content and benefit from using it, to study the content and apply what is learned, to make and distribute copies of the content, to change, and improve the content, and distribute these derivative works. While there are a number of different definitions of regular everyday use, free content is legally very similar, if not like an identical twin to open content. An analogy is the use of the rival terms free and open source software, which describe ideological rather than legal differences. Free content encompasses all works in the public domain and also the copyright of works whose licenses honor and uphold the freedoms mentioned above. As copyright law in most countries by default grant to copyright holders; monopolistic control over their creations, copyrighted content must be explicitly declared free, usually by referencing or including licensing statements within the work. Although a work that is in the public domain because its copyright has expired is considered free, it may become non-free again if changes in copyright law occur.

Legal issues

Traditional copyright

Copyright is a legal concept, which gives the author or creator legal control over the duplication and public performance of their work. In many jurisdictions, this is limited to a period of time after which the works then enter the public domain. During the copyright time period the author's work may only be copied, modified or publicly performed with the author's consent, unless the use is fair use. Traditional copyright control limits the use of the author's work to anyone who wants to pay royalties to the author for use of the authors content, or limit their use to fair use. Second, it limits the use of content whose author cannot be found. Finally, it creates a perceived barrier between authors, limiting derivative works such as mashups and collaborative content.

Public domain

The public domain is a range of creative works whose copyright has expired, or has never been established; as well as ideas and facts that are copyright ineligible. A public domain work is a work whose author has either relinquished to the public, or can no longer claim control over the distribution and use of the work. As such, anyone may manipulate, distribute or otherwise use the work, without legal ramifications. A work in the public domain or released under a permissive license may be referred to as a "copycenter".


Copyleft is a play on the word copyright and describes the practice of using copyright laws to remove restrictions on the distribution of copies and modified versions of a work. The purpose of copyleft is to use the legal framework of copyright to allow non-author parties to be able to reuse in many licensing regimes, modify content that is created by an author. Unlike works in the public domain, the author still retains copyright to the material, however, the author has granted a non-exclusive license to anyone to distribute, modify, and oftentimes the work. Copyleft licenses require that any derivative works be distributed under the same terms, and that the original copyright notices be retained. A symbol commonly associated with copyleft is an inversion.