Copyfree: policy

Copyfree Policy

Most industrial nations implement some form of copyright law, and increasingly these nations' governments agree to respect each others' copyright laws so that something copyrighted in one nation is copyrighted in another automatically. Copyright is an idea that is often justified as a means of fostering innovation, by providing a limited monopoly over an idea that the innovator could leverage to profit from that idea. The reasoning is that with greater opportunity for profit, there is greater motivation to innovate.

Time has proven many of the assumptions behind copyright law to be questionable, at best. Arguments arise that contradict the assumption that copyright fosters innovation and creation, and coming up with examples of how copyright sometimes hinders innovation is a trivial exercise. Worse yet, arguments arise that question the very ethical validity of copyright law itself: it may simply be wrong to impose governmentally enforced monopoly on an idea. While self-styled capitalists have long been the strongest supporters of copyright law, free market capitalists who oppose it are becoming increasingly visible thanks to the inherent conflicts between copyright law and property law.

One point of opposition to copyright law, specifically in the realm of software but more broadly applicable as well, is the Free Software Foundation. This organization is dedicated to ideals to which it assigns the term "copyleft". This is an obvious play on the term "copyright", and illustrates the FSF's "software wants to be free" ethic. There are those, however, who object to the FSF's definition of "freedom", noting that the copyleft movement seems to value certain forms of distribution more than others, and to value the "freedom" of software over the freedom of its users and developers. The FSF's aims amount to using government power to ensure nobody has full control over the disposition of software in his or her possession.

The copyleft ethos is well represented not only by the Free Software Foundation, but some other copyright policy advocacy organizations as well. One such organization is the Open Source Initiative. Another is the banner carrier for what has come to be called the Free Culture movement. That organization, the Creative Commons nonprofit organization, works to propagate the use of a wide range of licenses created and curated under the aegis of the organization. These licenses span the distance between public domain dedications (represented by CC0, a copyfree certified license) and licenses that restrict everything except verbatim sharing (represented by CC BY-NC-ND, the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivatives license). One of the most popularly favored Creative Commons licenses is CC BY-SA, the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license, applying terms equivalent to copyleft licensing, which is essentially to non-software works what the FSF's favored GPL family of licenses is to software.

As a third, orthogonal approach to the question of how the product of the intellect should be managed, there is "copyfree". This is a policy of information management that states that no management of our rights with regard to information in our possession, by anyone except ourselves, is at all appropriate. It is not information that must be free, but the people who use that information. In the terms of the policies of the copyfree philosophy, only you control the ideas that you possess -- that you "own" -- and you are free to copy, share, modify, and dispose of them as you wish, without any outside interference.

While copyfree policy may be consistent with the short-term aims of copyright abolitionists, it is not itself a policy of copyright abolition. The Copyfree Initiative's purpose is to describe and foster copyfree policy within current frameworks of copyright, rather than to specifically oppose and dismantle the laws that comprise that framework. All proponents of copyfree policy are supported in the narrow realm of applying and encouraging copyfree policy for any reason, whether activist, commercial, or "merely" ethical, and whether they wish to abolish copyright, reform it, or simply support a growing pool of freely available knowledge and cultural works.

Certification Policy

It is not the policy of the Copyfree Initiative at this time to use its certification process as an endorsement or review of the legal quality of a given license draft, nor any other standards of judgment beyond simple conformance with the principles embodied in the Copyfree Standard Definition. Plans are underway to establish recommended guidelines for license selection for interested parties, but these plans are not at present reflected in, or intended to be inferred from, any content of the Copyfree Initiative site. We hope that the presence of both the certified license list and the rejected license list serve your purposes for choosing licenses that conform to your general licensing policy preferences, though further information should be sought from other sources such as qualified legal professionals where appropriate.

Any information provided at is not intended, and should not be regarded, as legal advice. It is (perhaps obviously) provided for informational purposes only. Your license selections are your own responsibility.

Site Policy

All original text content of this site may be used and distributed under the terms of the Open Works License. All copyfree logo and notification images hosted on this site may also be used under the same terms. In addition, it is the policy of the Copyfree Initiative and contributors of such images that reproductions of these images to refer to copyfree policy, licensing, this site, and the Copyfree Initiative itself shall not be challenged so long as they conform to a liberal interpretation of the US legal doctrine of Fair Use.

The Copyfree Initiative is the custodial effort of the site and maintainer of site policy. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for the Copyfree Initiative, please feel free to join the copyfree community on the discussion mailing list or in the appropriate IRC channel. Information on the mailing list and IRC channels can be found in the Resources section of the community page.