A Definition of Free Cultural Works

Last year, I announced a project to bring together artists, content creators, and others who care about freedom to come up with a clear set of goals around which a social movement for essential freedoms around culture might be based. There has been a lot of discussion and a number of important changes to the document over the last year. A few days ago, we finally released "1.0" of our definition with this announcement:

A diverse group of writers has released the first version of the "Definition of Free Cultural Works." The authors have identified a minimum set of freedoms which they believe should be granted to all users of copyrighted materials. Created on a wiki with the feedback of Wikipedia users, open source hackers, artists, scientists, and lawyers, the definition lists the following core freedoms:

  • The freedom to use and perform the work
  • The freedom to study the work and apply the information
  • The freedom to redistribute copies
  • The freedom to distribute derivative works.

Inspired by the Free Software Definition and the ideals of the free software and open source movements, these conditions are meant to apply to any conceivable work. In reality, these freedoms must be granted explicitly by authors, through the use of licenses which confer them. On the website of the definition a list of these licenses can be found. Furthermore, authors are encouraged to identify their works as Free Cultural Works using a set of logos and buttons.

The definition was initiated by Benjamin Mako Hill, a Debian GNU/Linux developer, and Erik Möller, an author and long-time Wikipedia user. Wikipedia already follows similar principles to those established by the definition. Angela Beesley, Wikimedia Advisory Board Chair and co-founder of Wikia.com; Mia Garlick, general counsel of Creative Commons; and Elizabeth Stark of the Free Culture Student Movement acted as moderators, while Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation and Lawrence Lessig of Creative Commons provided helpful feedback.

As more and more people recognize that there are alternatives to traditional copyright, phrases like "open source," "open access," "open content," "free content," and "commons" are increasingly used. But many of these phrases are ambiguous when it comes to distinguishing works and licenses which grant all the above freedoms, and those which only confer limited rights. For example, a popular license restricts the commercial use of works, whereas the authors believe that such use must be permitted for a work to be considered Free. Instead of limiting commercial use, they recommend using a clever legal trick called "copyleft:" requiring all users of the work to make their combined and derivative works freely available.

Möller and Hill encourage authors to rethink copyright law and use one of the Free Culture Licenses to help build a genuine free and open culture.

If you haven’t yet, please check out the project at freedomdefined.org. If you’re still curious feel free to read about my motivation and why I think that everyone should stand up for what they feel are essential freedoms.

5 Replies to “A Definition of Free Cultural Works”

  1. Thanks Steve for the hint. The conference you point out really does look great. I’m not sure, with eveything else I have going on, if I’m going to be able to make it but I can point it out to some of my collaborators.

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