Open content

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The Open Content Project logo (1998) Open content norm.svg
The Open Content Project logo (1998)
The logo on the screen in the subject's left hand is a Creative Commons license, while the paper in his right hand explains, in Khmer, that the image is open content. Discussing Creative Commons licensing in Khmer.jpg
The logo on the screen in the subject's left hand is a Creative Commons license, while the paper in his right hand explains, in Khmer, that the image is open content.

Open content describes any work that others can copy or modify freely by attributing to the original creator, but without needing to ask for permission. This has been applied to a range of formats, including textbooks, academic journals, films and music. The term was an expansion of the related concept of open-source software. [1] Such content is said to be under an open licence.



The concept of applying free software licenses to content was introduced by Michael Stutz, who in 1994 wrote the paper "Applying Copyleft to Non-Software Information" for the GNU Project. The term "open content" was coined by David A. Wiley in 1998 and evangelized via the Open Content Project , describing works licensed under the Open Content License (a non-free share-alike license, see 'Free content' below) and other works licensed under similar terms. [1]

It has since come to describe a broader class of content without conventional copyright restrictions. The openness of content can be assessed under the '5Rs Framework' based on the extent to which it can be reused, revised, remixed and redistributed by members of the public without violating copyright law. [2] Unlike free content and content under open-source licenses, there is no clear threshold that a work must reach to qualify as 'open content'.

Although open content has been described as a counterbalance to copyright, [3] open content licenses rely on a copyright holder's power to license their work, similarly as copyleft which also utilizes copyright for such a purpose.

In 2003 Wiley announced that the Open Content Project has been succeeded by Creative Commons and their licenses, where he joined as "Director of Educational Licenses". [4] [5]

In 2005, the Open Icecat project was launched, in which product information for e-commerce applications was created and published under the Open Content License. It was embraced by the tech sector, which was already quite open source minded.

In 2006 the Creative Commons' successor project was the Definition of Free Cultural Works [6] for free content, put forth by Erik Möller, [7] Richard Stallman, Lawrence Lessig, Benjamin Mako Hill, [7] Angela Beesley, [7] and others. The Definition of Free Cultural Works is used by the Wikimedia Foundation. [8] In 2008, the Attribution and Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons licenses were marked as "Approved for Free Cultural Works" among other licenses. [9]

Open Knowledge Foundation OK LOGO COLOUR RGB.svg
Open Knowledge Foundation

Another successor project is the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), [10] founded by Rufus Pollock in Cambridge, UK in 2004 [11] as a global non-profit network to promote and share open content and data. [12] In 2007 the Open Knowledge Foundation gave an Open Knowledge Definition for "Content such as music, films, books; Data be it scientific, historical, geographic or otherwise; Government and other administrative information". [13] In October 2014 with version 2.0 Open Works and Open Licenses were defined and "open" is described as synonymous to the definitions of open/free in the Open Source Definition, the Free Software Definition and the Definition of Free Cultural Works. [14] A distinct difference is the focus given to the public domain and that it focuses also on the accessibility ("open access") and the readability ("open formats"). Among several conformant licenses, six are recommended, three own (Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and Licence (PDDL), Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-BY), Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL)) and the CC BY, CC BY-SA, and CC0 creative commons licenses. [15] [16] [17]

"Open content" definition

The OpenContent website once defined OpenContent as 'freely available for modification, use and redistribution under a license similar to those used by the open-source / free software community'. [1] However, such a definition would exclude the Open Content License (OPL) because that license forbade charging 'a fee for the [OpenContent] itself', a right required by free and open-source software licenses.[ citation needed ]

The term since shifted in meaning. OpenContent "is licensed in a manner that provides users with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities." [2]

The 5Rs are put forward on the OpenContent website as a framework for assessing the extent to which content is open:

  1. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) [2]

This broader definition distinguishes open content from open-source software, since the latter must be available for commercial use by the public. However, it is similar to several definitions for open educational resources, which include resources under noncommercial and verbatim licenses. [18] [19]

The later Open Definition by the Open Knowledge Foundation (now known as Open Knowledge International) define open knowledge with open content and open data as sub-elements and draws heavily on the Open Source Definition; it preserves the limited sense of open content as free content, [20] unifying both.

Open access

Open access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science Open Access logo PLoS white.svg
Open access logo, originally designed by Public Library of Science

"Open access" refers to toll-free or gratis access to content, mainly published originally peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Some open access works are also licensed for reuse and redistribution ("libre open access"), which would qualify them as open content.

Open content and education

Open Educational Resources logo Global Open Educational Resources Logo.svg
Open Educational Resources logo
Open Content Alliance logo Ocaheader.jpg
Open Content Alliance logo

Over the past decade, open content has been used to develop alternative routes towards higher education. Traditional universities are expensive, and their tuition rates are increasing. [21] Open content allows a free way of obtaining higher education that is "focused on collective knowledge and the sharing and reuse of learning and scholarly content." [22] There are multiple projects and organizations that promote learning through open content, including OpenCourseWare Initiative, The Saylor Foundation and Khan Academy. Some universities, like MIT, Yale, and Tufts are making their courses freely available on the internet. [23]


The textbook industry is one of the educational industries in which open content can make the biggest =Khing Phyo San "funny monkey">Fitzgerald, Bill (2012). "Using Open Content To Drive Educational Change". Funny Monkey. Retrieved 18 April 2012.</ref> Traditional textbooks, aside from being expensive, can also be inconvenient and out of date, because of publishers' tendency to constantly print new editions. [24] Open textbooks help to eliminate this problem, because they are online and thus easily updatable. Being openly licensed and online can be helpful to teachers, because it allows the textbook to be modified according to the teacher's unique curriculum. [25] There are multiple organizations promoting the creation of openly licensed textbooks. Some of these organizations and projects include The University of Minnesota's Open Textbook Library, Connexions, OpenStax College, The Saylor Foundation Open Textbook Challenge and Wikibooks


According to the current definition of open content on the OpenContent website, any general, royalty-free copyright license would qualify as an open license because it 'provides users with the right to make more kinds of uses than those normally permitted under the law. These permissions are granted to users free of charge.' [2]

However, the narrower definition used in the Open Definition effectively limits open content to libre content, any free content license, defined by the Definition of Free Cultural Works, would qualify as an open content license. According to this narrower criteria, the following still-maintained licenses qualify:

(For more licenses see Open Knowledge, Free content and Free Cultural Works licenses)

See also

Related Research Articles

Freeware is software, most often proprietary, that is distributed at no monetary cost to the end user. There is no agreed-upon set of rights, license, or EULA that defines freeware unambiguously; every publisher defines its own rules for the freeware it offers. For instance, modification, redistribution by third parties, and reverse engineering without the author's permission are permitted by some publishers but prohibited by others. Unlike with free and open-source software, which are also often distributed free of charge, the source code for freeware is typically not made available. Freeware may be intended to benefit its producer by, for example, encouraging sales of a more capable version, as in the freemium and shareware business models.

Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright-licenses, known as Creative Commons licenses, free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy-to-understand one-page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright but are based upon it. They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an "all rights reserved" copyright management, with a "some rights reserved" management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner. The result is an agile, low-overhead, and low-cost copyright-management regime, benefiting both copyright owners and licensees.

The Open Publication License (OPL) was published by the Open Content Project in 1999 as a public copyright license for documents. It superseded the Open Content License, which was published by the Open Content Project in 1998. Starting around 2002-2003, it began to be superseded, in turn, by the Creative Commons licenses.

The Open Content License is a share-alike public copyright license by Open Content Project in 1998. The license can be applied to a work to make it open content. It is one of the earliest non-software free content licenses.

Creative Commons license licence for use of a work

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work". A CC license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created. CC provides an author flexibility and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.

Openness is an overarching concept or philosophy that is characterized by an emphasis on transparency and collaboration. That is, openness refers to "accessibility of knowledge, technology and other resources; the transparency of action; the permeability of organisational structures; and the inclusiveness of participation". Openness can be said to be the opposite of closedness, central authority and secrecy.

Open educational resources educational materials that can be freely used and reused

Open educational resources (OER) are freely accessible, openly licensed text, media, and other digital assets that are useful for teaching, learning, and assessing as well as for research purposes.

Free-culture movement social movement promoting free content

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.

An information commons is an information system, such as a physical library or online community, that exists to produce, conserve, and preserve information for current and future generations. Wikipedia could be considered to be an information commons to the extent that it produces and preserves information through current versions of articles and histories. Other examples of an information commons include Creative Commons.

OpenStax CNX, formerly called Connexions, is a global repository of educational content provided by volunteers. The open source platform is provided and maintained by OpenStax, which is based at Rice University. The collection is available free of charge, can be remixed and edited, and is available for download in various digital formats.

Open Source Judaism

Open-source Judaism is a name given to initiatives within the Jewish community employing Open Content and open-source licensing strategies for collaboratively creating and sharing works about or inspired by Judaism. Open-source efforts in Judaism utilize licensing strategies by which contemporary products of Jewish culture under copyright may be adopted, adapted, and redistributed with credit and attribution accorded to the creators of these works. Often collaborative, these efforts are comparable to those of other open-source religious initiatives inspired by the free culture movement to openly share and broadly disseminate seminal texts and techniques under the aegis of Copyright law. Combined, these initiatives describe an open-source movement in Judaism that values correct attribution of sources, creative sharing in an intellectual Commons, adaptable future-proof technologies, open technological standards, open access to primary and secondary sources and their translations, and personal autonomy in the study and craft of works of Torah.

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.

Free content Work or artwork with few or no restrictions on how it may be used

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.

An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license, and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public. Many open textbooks are distributed in either print, e-book, or audio formats that may be downloaded or purchased at little or no cost.

Wikimedia Commons free-use media repository

Wikimedia Commons is an online repository of free-use images, sounds, other media, and JSON files. It is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation.

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 add free

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

A free license or open license 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. Free licenses are often the basis of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding projects.

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.

Open source products include permission to use the source code, design documents, or content of the product. It most commonly refers to the open-source model, in which open-source software or other products are released under an open-source license as part of the open-source-software movement. Use of the term originated with software, but has expanded beyond the software sector to cover other open content and forms of open collaboration.


  1. 1 2 3 Wiley, David (1998). "Open Content". Archived from the original on 28 January 1999. Retrieved 17 April 2012.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Wiley, David. "Open Content". Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  3. "Lawrence Liang, "Free/Open Source Software Open Content", Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme: e-Primers on Free/Open Source Software, United Nations Development Programme – Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme, 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 23 June 2012.
  4. OpenContent is officially closed. And that's just fine. on (30 June 2003, archived)
  5. Creative Commons Welcomes David Wiley as Educational Use License Project Lead by matt (23 June 2003)
  6. "Revision history of "Definition" – Definition of Free Cultural Works". Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 "History – Definition of Free Cultural Works". Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  8. "Resolution:Licensing policy". Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  9. "Approved for Free Cultural Works". Creative Commons. 24 July 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  10. Davies, Tim (12 April 2014). "Data, information, knowledge and power – exploring Open Knowledge's new core purpose". Tim's Blog. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  11. "Open Knowledge Foundation launched". Open Knowledge Foundation Weblog. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  12. "Open Knowledge: About". Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  13. version 1.0 on (archived 2007)
  14. Open Definition 2.1 on
  15. licenses on
  16. Creative Commons 4.0 BY and BY-SA licenses approved conformant with the Open Definition by Timothy Vollmer on (27 December 2013)
  17. Open Definition 2.0 released by Timothy Vollmer on creativecommons.rog (7 October 2014)
  18. Atkins, Daniel E.; John Seely Brown; Allen L. Hammond (February 2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (PDF). Menlo Park, CA: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  19. Geser, Guntram (January 2007). Open Educational Practices and Resources. OLCOS Roadmap 2012. Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg Research, EduMedia Group. p. 20. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  20. "Open Definition". Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  21. Kantrowitz, Mark (2012). "Tuition Inflation". Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  22. NMC (2012). "One Year or Less: Open Content". 2010 Horizon Report. Archived from the original on 16 March 2012. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  23. Admin (2012). " Top 50 University Open Courseware Collections". DIY Learning. Archived from the original on 8 October 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  24. Moushon, James (2012). "e-Textbooks: How do they stack up against tradition textbooks". Self Publishing Review. Retrieved 18 April 2012.
  25. Fitzgerald, Bill (2012). "Using Open Content To Drive Educational Change". Funny Monkey. Retrieved 18 April 2012.