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What Is Copyleft (Explained: All You Need To Know)

Copyleft refers to the rights granted to use certain copyrighted material provided the same rights are maintained in any derivative works.

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Let me explain to you what copyleft means and why it matters!

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What Is Copyleft

Copyleft refers to legal rules applicable to certain copyrighted material where users have the freedom of using the copyrighted material provided they preserve the same rights on derivative works.

In other words, when someone uses software, application, or system subject to copyleft, he or she must apply the same copyleft license on any derivative works created.

In this context, a user of copyleft material has the freedom to use the work for any purpose whatsoever either with or without a fee.

However, the creation of all derivative works must remain copyleft material.

The most common type of copyleft license is GNU General Public License (GPL), Mozilla Public License, Free Art License, and the Creative Commons share-alike.

Copyleft material generally grants users the right to use, study, copy, share, and modify the work.

This is different from copyright material that gives its author full control over the use, modification, and distribution of the work.

Keep reading as I will further break down the meaning of copyleft and tell you how it works.

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How Does A Copyleft Work

Copyleft refers to the legal technique used to grant users of certain works the freedom to use, share, and modify the works.

This is different from what you typically see under copyright laws where the author of the work is the only party having the freedom to use, share, modify, and distribute the work.

When work is subject to a copyleft license, the license includes different provisions relating to the user’s obligation when using or modifying the work.

In essence, to copyleft something, we must first state that it is copyrighted.

Then, the terms and conditions related to the distribution of the works are legally stated giving anyone the right to use, modify, and redistribute the code or works.

This means that the condition users must accept is that they are free to use and modify the work as they please provided that they ensure that any modified works remain under a copyleft scheme allowing users to freely use and modify the derivative works.

The original author of copyright material must give up the rights unique to copyright holders for the material to become subject to a copyleft license.

Depending on the copyleft license terms and conditions, the user’s obligation to give up rights on derivative works can be weak or strong.

A weak copyleft license is when users must give up rights on certain modifications, but not all.

A strong copyleft license is when users are required to give up rights on all modifications or derivative works.

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Why Use Copyleft Licenses

The main reason why copyleft licenses are granted by the authors of creative works is that they wish to have a community built around their program so they can share ideas and improve the works.

In reality, to create copyleft material, you start off with copyright material where you then add specific distribution rights in the license where users are given the freedom to use the code provided their derivative works remain free for other users to use.

When a software product is subject to a copyleft license, users can freely access the source code, modify it, distribute it, share it, and use it as they wish.

However, their modifications and improvements to the code must remain subject to a copyleft license.

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Copyleft vs Copyright

What is the difference between copyleft and copyright?

Copyright and copyleft are both legal schemes giving users different rights and imposing different obligations on users of creative works.

Copyleft is a legal scheme where the creative author deliberately allows users to freely use, modify, and share the works provided their derivative works also remain free to use by others.

The objective is to give as many users the right to use the works and collaborate with one another to make improvements to the original work.

An example of a copyleft material is the Red Hat Enterprise Linux which is an operating system under a copyleft license.

On the other hand, copyright is the legal regime that protects creators of original works by prohibiting others from freely using, sharing, and modifying the works.

The objective is to protect the creator of the original work giving that person the exclusive right to determine how the work can be used, shared, or distributed.

A good example of copyright material is a song or poem that someone may write.

The person is automatically vested with the copyrights on the works.

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So there you have it folks!

What does copyleft mean?

In a nutshell, “copyleft” refers to the rights and obligations applicable to works where the users are free to use, share, and modify the works provided they pass along the same freedoms to their derivative works.

Copyleft is a method where a program, software, material, or work is made available to users to use freely conditional on having all modified versions of the work remain free to use by others.

The idea behind copyleft is that if the original author of the work decided to give anyone the freedom to use the works, if a middle person makes changes and keeps the results proprietary, the freedom given by the original creator will be lost.

To ensure that the work remains free to use even when modified, the copyleft license is used to require that derivative works and modifications remain subject to the same rights.

Ultimately, copyrights protect the individual’s creative works whereas copyleft protects the social interest in knowledge creation and collaboration.

Now that you know what copyleft means and how it works, good luck with your research!

Share-alike meaning
Open-source meaning
Public domain
Derivative works
Shareware license 
Freeware license
Royalty-free license 
Free-software license


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