Yes, Copyleft Is Really A Thing

We all know about copyright and how it’s there to protect your creative work. Of course, it’s a lot more involved than that, especially in these digital days where the law hasn’t been updated since 1998. That said copyright has a cousin and it’s called copyleft. Yes, really, no joke, it’s a real thing and it’s something that you’ve probably used in the past without even being aware.

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The Copyleft Symbol (note the center)

What Is Copyright?

A good explanation of copyright from MakeUseOf is that it’s “a legal right bestowed upon creators of original works to dictate how those works can or cannot be copied, modified, and distributed by others. If someone uses or distributes an original work in a way that’s contrary to what its creator allows (“infringement”), the creator is entitled to seek legal action.

The main idea behind copyright is that creators restrict what others can or cannot do with their works and must grant individual permission to do otherwise.”

Then There’s Copyleft

While copyright restricts what you can do with the work under license, copyleft spells out all the things that are legal under the license. Think of a Creative Commons license where it gives you the right to use, copy, modify, or distribute something. That’s copyleft in action.

In other words, where copyright tells you what you can’t do, where copyleft tells you what you can.

That doesn’t mean that a copyleft work is public domain where you can do anything you want to it and with it. Copyleft does impose some demands. For instance, it might require someone who uses a copyleft work that imposes no restrictions on modifying and distribution to do the same on the work they come up with.

Also, a copyleft license doesn’t necessarily have to be free. You can certainly charge for it and Red Hat Enterprise Linux is an example of that, where it charges $49 per license. This isn’t usually the case though, as most licenses are free.

As said before, copyleft is something that you’ve probably used before without knowing it. It’s not only useful in today’s digital economy, but essential, and it helps us to share art and knowledge with the world.


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