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Why Copyleft is important for the human species as a whole

GNU Copyleft was originally designed for programs, but it can be applied to any kind of intellectual property: Texts, images, video and other kinds of works as well. Copyleft ensures knowledge remains a free part of the commons and is a very effective means to take back the control of knowledge and thought now owned by private corporations.


  1. What is Copyright?
  2. How Open Source Software evolves
  3. Beat Copyright by License
  4. Public v.s. Private ownership


The human species is estimated to have had the same amount of intelligence 250.000 to 300.000 thousands years ago. Humans mined for iron in Afrika about 90.000 years ago, which means the people from that time had fairly organized societies. Yet we know little to nothing about those people today.

Human knowledge was historically been shared as free as possible. At the time of the great library in Alexandria it was commonly fair to copy and distribute books and other literature. The distribution of art and knowledge was limited to the technology available for a very, very long time.

1. What is Copyright?

Then about three hundred years ago the human species entered the time period which started current unsustainable failure of a society with the industrial revolution. It brought about a fundamental change in the sharing of knowledge: Copyright was introduced.

Copyright basically allows real persons and artificial, immortal legal persons called Corporations to claim a given work to be intellectual property. The concept of intellectual property gives one single entity the complete right to control intellectual work. Expressed thoughts were put into the market place to be sold and bought like goods and services.

This is good for greedy corporation and their bottom line, but limits the amount of common knowledge left in the commons. Copyright steals from the common wealth and places it within the fenced and restricted private wealth.

2. How Open Source Software evolves

Open Source Software is licensed in a way which places the ownership of the softwares source code in the commons. Everyone is allowed to use open software, and anyone with time and skills can participate in it's development. This makes OSS software evolve, because everyone using it becomes a potential developer. Open software continues to evolve even if the original creator leave the project since anyone can pick up the torch and carry on.

3. Beat Copyright by License

The simplest way to make anything free is to place it in the Public Domain. A work is free if the Copyright owner says it is. Most countries have laws who by default gives the creator Copyright, so it is up to the Copyright owner if he/she wants to share it with the world or not.

Public Domain has one problem: It is allowed to take something from the public domain, alter it and claim Copyright over it. This will remain a problem as long as Copyright is not abolished for the collective good for all mankind.

Licenses have been introduced to deal with this problem. A jungle of licenses have appeared and they all deal with this in slightly different ways.

3.1. The Free software foundation

Free software is a matter of freedom: people should be free to use software in all the ways that are socially useful. Software differs from material objectssuch as chairs, sandwiches, and gasolinein that it can be copied and changed much more easily. These possibilities make software as useful as it is; we believe software users should be able to make use of them. The Free software foundation are the creators of the two most popular licenses used for common wealth today:

3.1.1. Copyleft

Copyleft is a great license originally designed for software which can be applied to images, text, pictures and any other work for that matter. The license says the work is free and must remain free. You can do what you want with the work as long as it remains in the commons. You can not take a Copyleft picture and put it on a website that has a copyright notice restricting others from freely using the picture, but you can use it if you are using Copyleft yourself.

Copyleft is a very good idea for music also. Most so-called "samples" used to create modern music are owned by large corporations who insist you buy their music using a polluting, non-sustainable media called DVD discs. Copyleft music can be distributed freely, meaning people will promote your bands music to the millions at no cost to you.

3.1.2. General Public License

The licenses for most software are designed to take away your freedom to share and change it. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change free software--to make sure the software is free for all its users.

This is the license most open source software is owned by today.

The Linux Kernel, the KDE desktop, the Gnome desktop and thousands of other OSS programs are licensed under the General Public License. Using GPL gives both the creators and the commons a better ability to successfully attack greedy corporations who use code from the commons without giving anything back.

GIMP is an advanced, free image editor for Linux and Windows licensed under GNU GPL.

3.2. BSD Style: The "good luck" license

This is a sample of a BSD style license:

  Copyright (c) 2005 <SOMEONE>
  All rights reserved.
  
  Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without
  modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions
  are met:
  1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright
     notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
  2. Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright
     notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the
     documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
  3. The name of the author may not be used to endorse or promote products
     derived from this software without specific prior written permission.
  
  THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE AUTHOR ``AS IS'' AND ANY EXPRESS OR
  IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES
  OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED.
  IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHOR BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT,
  INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT
  NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE,
  DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY
  THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT
  (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF
  THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

The BSD style is a very simple way of saying All rights reserved., but you have the right to do what you want as long as you keep the BSD license. And good luck, if this software ruins your day then that's just tought luck.

3.3. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5

Creative Commons Attribution is a popular license used by many bloggers. It is a relatively free license.


You are free:

  • to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work
  • to make derivative works
  • to make commercial use of the work

Under the following conditions:

Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

  • For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work.
  • Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.

4. Public v.s. Private ownership

Some things are best left in the public space. Fresh air and clean water should be left in the commons. Knowledge, art and software benefit more people if they also are in the commons.

The paste humanity betters itself is in many ways limited to the amount of common knowledge available to the general public. Mass-distribution of knowledge can be archived in a huge way using the Internet, and the global Internet information bank is growing rapidly. But it and the use of it will remain limited as long as Copyright exists. This is why Copyleft and licenses like it are extremely good for you, your corporation, the environment and humanity as a whole.

As for software, it is obvious that open source software over time evolves in a way that inevitably will make OSS software better and more mature than software developed by any single corporation. No corporation can match the collective efforts of everyone using a software program. This is why it is very important to file good, well-written, thought-through bug reports when you experience trouble with Linux and other OSS programs. There are many other things anyone can do: Write documentation, draw nice icons, translate strings and so on. You can help yourself by helping the development of free code and other free intellectual works.

Learn more about the freedom to think, learn and experience the joy of life here:


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