About free culture and open knowledge

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AKA, "free, libre and open" or "FLO" or "libre" or "free content" or "free culture" or "open knowledge".

A few hundred years ago, culture and knowledge were freely available to be used and shared in any way that their fans wanted. Books were translated, folk songs adapted, plays performed by amateur productions, artworks serving as the foundations for new artworks.

Copyright was introduced at the behest of the big publishing companies who wanted to outlaw their competitors from putting out cheap versions of their books. Since then, copyright has has only become more expansive and oppressive, until now we take for granted that our common culture and knowledge has been commodified, locked down and monopolised by record labels, publishing houses and the movie industry.

Some creators have bravely resisted this trend. They make their creations available under few or no copyright restrictions so that others can share and build upon them

When enough copyright restrictions have been rejected, the work is considered free and open:

  • Able to be shared and adapted
  • By any person
  • For any purpose
  • Subject, at most, to the requirement that the creator is credited ("attribution") or that any adaptations are similarly free from restrictions ("share-alike" or "reciprocal")

What free and open might be

Some free and open works are free of charge (also called gratis). However, not all of them are. The “free” in this context refers to “free from restrictions”, not “free of charge”.

Some free and open works are crowdsourced: they are created and improved upon by the community, rather than a company or an individual. However, others are created in house.

Some free and open works are open access: they are available online for anyone to read without charge.

What free and open isn't

Some works are free to share and adapt, but not for commercial purposes. Others are free to share, but only verbatim. These works are not free and open, because they are too restrictive. You could describe these as "some rights reserved", but not as free or open.

Some works have their source code available, but normal copyright restrictions apply to modifications or re-uses of that code. These works are not free and open. You could describe these as "shared source" works, but not as free or open.

See also