Free license

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A free license or open license [1] [2] is a license agreement which contains provisions that allow other individuals to reuse another creator's work, giving them four major freedoms. Without a special license, these uses are normally prohibited by copyright law or commercial license. Most free licenses are worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, and perpetual (see copyright durations). Free licenses are often the basis of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding projects.


The invention of the term "free license" and the focus on the rights of users were connected to the sharing traditions of the hacker culture of the 1970s public domain software ecosystem, the social and political free software movement (since 1980) and the open source movement (since the 1990s). [3] These rights were codified by different groups and organizations for different domains in Free Software Definition, Open Source Definition, Debian Free Software Guidelines, Definition of Free Cultural Works and The Open Definition. [1] These definitions were then transformed into licenses, using the copyright as legal mechanism. Since then, ideas of free/open licenses spread into different spheres of society.

Open source, free culture (unified as free and open-source movement), anticopyright, Wikimedia Foundation projects, public domain advocacy groups and pirate parties are connected with free and open licenses.


Classification and licenses

Network of licenses (and years of license creation). License network by bokanko.jpg
Network of licenses (and years of license creation).

By freedom

By type of content

By authors


United States

European Union

EUPL was created in the European Union.


Harald Welte created

Related Research Articles

Free software Software licensed to preserve user freedoms

Free software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price: all users are legally free to do what they want with their copies of a free software regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed "free" if they give end-users ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.

Free software movement Social and political movement

The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedom to run the software, to study the software, to modify the software, and to share possibly modified copies of the software. Software which meets these requirements is termed free software. The word 'free' is ambiguous in English, although in this context, it means 'free as in freedom', not 'free as in zero price'. A common example is, "to think of free speech, not free beer."

GNU Free software project

GNU is an extensive collection of free software, which can be used as an operating system or can be used in parts with other operating systems. The use of the completed GNU tools led to the family of operating systems popularly known as Linux. Most of GNU is licensed under the GNU Project's own General Public License (GPL).

MIT License Permissive free software license

The MIT License is a permissive free software license originating at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the late 1980s. As a permissive license, it puts only very limited restriction on reuse and has, therefore, high license compatibility. The Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons projects use the alternative name Expat License.

The Mozilla Public License (MPL) is a free and open-source software license developed and maintained by the Mozilla Foundation. It is a weak copyleft license, characterized as a middle ground between permissive software licenses and the GNU General Public License (GPL), that seeks to balance the concerns of proprietary and open-source developers. As such, it allows the integration of MPL-licensed code into proprietary codebases, as long as the MPL-licensed components remain accessible under the terms of the MPL.

Free-culture movement Social movement promoting the freedom to distribute and modify the creative works of others

The free-culture movement is a social movement that promotes the freedom to distribute and modify the creative works of others in the form of free content or open content without compensation to, or the consent of, the work's original creators, by using the Internet and other forms of media.

A permissive software license, sometimes also called BSD-like or BSD-style license, is a free-software license with only minimal restrictions on how the software can be used, modified, and redistributed, usually including a warranty disclaimer. Examples include the GNU All-permissive License, MIT License, BSD licenses, Apple Public Source License and Apache license. As of 2016, the most popular free-software license is the permissive MIT license.

This is a comparison of free and open-source software licences. The comparison only covers software licences with a linked article for details, approved by at least one expert group at the FSF, the OSI, the Debian project or the Fedora project. For a list of licences not specifically intended for software, see List of free content licences.

WTFPL License for permissive use of intellectual property rights

WTFPL is a GPL-compatible permissive license most commonly used as a free software license. As a public domain like license, the WTFPL is essentially the same as dedication to the public domain. It allows redistribution and modification of the work under any terms. The title is an abbreviation of "Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License".

Public-domain-equivalent license License that waives all copyright and related rights, to the extent permitted by the law in each jurisdiction

Public-domain-equivalent license are licenses that grant public-domain-like rights and/or act as waivers. They are used to make copyrighted works usable by anyone without conditions, while avoiding the complexities of attribution or license compatibility that occur with other licenses.

License compatibility is a legal framework that allows for pieces of software with different software licenses to be distributed together. The need for such a framework arises because the different licenses can contain contradictory requirements, rendering it impossible to legally combine source code from separately-licensed software in order to create and publish a new program. Proprietary licenses are generally program-specific and incompatible; authors must negotiate to combine code. Copyleft licenses are deliberately incompatible with proprietary licenses, in order to prevent copyleft software from being re-licensed under a proprietary license, turning it into proprietary software. Many copyleft licenses explicitly allow relicensing under some other copyleft licenses. Permissive licenses are compatible with everything, including proprietary licenses; there is thus no guarantee that all derived works will remain under a permissive license.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to free software and the free software movement:

Free content Creative work with few or no restrictions on how it may be used

A free content, libre content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, work of art, or other creative content that meets the definition of a free cultural work.

Free-software license license allowing software modification and redistribution

A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software. These actions are usually prohibited by copyright law, but the rights-holder of a piece of software can remove these restrictions by accompanying the software with a software license which grants the recipient these rights. Software using such a license is free software as conferred by the copyright holder. Free-software licenses are applied to software in source code and also binary object-code form, as the copyright law recognizes both forms.

BSD licenses are a family of permissive free software licenses, imposing minimal restrictions on the use and distribution of covered software. This is in contrast to copyleft licenses, which have share-alike requirements. The original BSD license was used for its namesake, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), a Unix-like operating system. The original version has since been revised, and its descendants are referred to as modified BSD licenses.

Copyleft Practice of mandating free use in all derivatives of a work

Copyleft is the practice of granting the right to freely distribute and modify intellectual property with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works created from that property. Copyleft in the form of licenses can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents.

GNU General Public License Series of free software licenses

The GNU General Public License is a series of widely-used free software licenses that guarantee end users the freedom to run, study, share, and modify the software. The licenses were originally written by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), for the GNU Project, and grant the recipients of a computer program the rights of the Free Software Definition. The GPL series are all copyleft licenses, which means that any derivative work must be distributed under the same or equivalent license terms. This is in distinction to permissive software licenses, of which the BSD licenses and the MIT License are widely used, less restrictive examples. GPL was the first copyleft license for general use.

GNU Free Documentation License Copyleft license primarily for free software documentation

The GNU Free Documentation License is a copyleft license for free documentation, designed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for the GNU Project. It is similar to the GNU General Public License, giving readers the rights to copy, redistribute, and modify a work and requires all copies and derivatives to be available under the same license. Copies may also be sold commercially, but, if produced in larger quantities, the original document or source code must be made available to the work's recipient.

Definition of Free Cultural Works Definition of free content

The Definition of Free Cultural Works is a definition of free content from 2006. The project evaluates and recommends compatible free content licenses.

A public license or public copyright licenses is a license by which a copyright holder as licensor can grant additional copyright permissions to any and all persons in the general public as licensees. By applying a public license to a work, provided that the licensees obey the terms and conditions of the license, copyright holders give permission for others to copy or change their work in ways that would otherwise infringe copyright law.


  1. 1 2 Open Definition 2.1 on "This essential meaning matches that of “open” with respect to software as in the Open Source Definition and is synonymous with “free” or “libre” as in the Free Software Definition and Definition of Free Cultural Works."
  2. The Open Source Definition
  3. Kelty, Christpher M. (2018). "The Cultural Significance of free Software - Two Bits" (PDF). Duke University press - durham and london. p. 99. Prior to 1998, Free Software referred either to the Free Software Foundation (and the watchful, micromanaging eye of Stallman) or to one of thousands of different commercial, avocational, or university-research projects, processes, licenses, and ideologies that had a variety of names: sourceware, freeware, shareware, open software, public domain software, and so on. The term Open Source, by contrast, sought to encompass them all in one movement.
  4. PDDL 1.0 on