Free content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, artwork, or other creative content, which meets the free content definition, having no significant legal restriction relative to people's freedom to use, distribute copies, modify, and to distribute derived works of the content. It is distinct from open content in that it can be modified, whereas one might not have that ability with content that is simply "open" and not "free".
Free content encompasses all works in the public domain and also those copyrighted works whose licenses honor and uphold the freedoms mentioned above. Because copyright law in most countries by default grants copyright holders monopolistic control over their creations, copyrighted content must be explicitly declared free, usually by the referencing or inclusion of licensing statements from within the work.
Though a work which is in the public domain because its copyright has expired is considered free, it can become non-free again if the copyright law changes.
Traditionally, copyright is a legal concept, which grants the author or creator of a work legal rights to control the duplication and public performance of his or her work. In many jurisdictions, this is limited by a time period after which the works then enter the public domain. During the time period of copyright the author's work may only be copied, modified, or publicly performed with the consent of the author, unless the use is a fair use.
Traditional copyright control, when compared to free content, is limiting in several ways. It limits the use of the work of the author to those who can, or are willing to, afford the payment of royalties to the author for usage of the authors content, or limit their use to fair use. Secondly it limits the use of content whose author cannot be found. Finally it creates a perceived barrier between authors by limiting derivative works, such as mashups and collaborative content. Copyleft is based on the belief that the temporary publishing monopoly that traditional copyright created in order to encourage science and learning is not actually the best way to promote science and learning.
The public domain is a range of creative works whose copyright has expired, or was never established; as well as ideas and facts[nb 1] which are ineligible for copyright. A public domain work is a work whose author has either relinquished to the public, or no longer can claim control over, the distribution and usage of the work. As such any person may manipulate, distribute, or otherwise utilize the work, without legal ramifications. A work released into the public domain, or under a very liberal license, by its author may be referred to as "copycenter".
Copyleft is a play on the word copyright and describes the practice of using copyright law to remove restrictions on distributing copies and modified versions of a work. The aim of copyleft is to use the legal framework of copyright to enable non-author parties to be able to reuse and, in many licensing schemes, modify content that is created by an author. Unlike public domain or other non-copyleft free work, the author still maintains copyright over the material, however the author has granted a non-exclusive license to any person to distribute, and often modify, the work. Copyleft licenses require that any derivative works be distributed under the same terms, and that the original copyright notices be maintained.
A symbol commonly associated with copyleft is a reversal of the copyright symbol, facing the other way; the opening of the C points left rather than right. Unlike the copyright symbol, the copyleft symbol does not have a codified meaning.
Projects that provide free content exist in several areas of interest, such as software, academic literature, general literature, music, images, video, and engineering.
Technology has reduced the cost of publication and reduced the entry barrier sufficiently to allow for the production of widely disseminated materials by individuals or small groups. Projects to provide free literature and multimedia content have become increasingly prominent owing to the ease of dissemination of materials that is associated with the development of computer technology. Such dissemination may have been too costly prior to these technological developments.
In media, which includes textual, audio, and visual content, free licensing schemes such as some of the licenses made by Creative Commons have allowed for the dissemination of works under a clear set of legal permissions. Not all of the Creative Commons’ licenses are entirely free: their permissions may range from very liberal general redistribution and modification of the work to a more restrictive redistribution-only licensing. Since February 2008, Creative Commons licenses which are entirely free carry a badge indicating that they are "approved for free cultural works". Repositories exist which exclusively feature free material provide content such as photographs, clip art, music, and literature,.
Free software, often referred to as open source software, is a maturing technology with major companies utilising free software to provide both services and technology to both end users and technical consumers. The ease of dissemination has allowed for increased modularity, which allows for smaller groups to contribute to projects as well as simplifying collaboration.
Open source development models have been classified as having a similar peer-recognition and collaborative benefit incentives that are typified by more classical fields such as scientific research, with the social structures that result from this incentive model decreasing production cost.
Given sufficient interest in a given software component, by using peer-to-peer distribution methods, distribution costs of software may be minimized, removing the burden of infrastructure maintenance from developers. As distribution resources are simultaneously provided by consumers, these software distribution models are scalable, that is the method is feasible regardless of the number of consumers. In some cases, free software vendors may use peer-to-peer technology as a method of dissemination.
Engineering and technology
Free content principles have been translated into fields such as engineering, where designs and engineering knowledge can be readily shared and duplicated, in order to reduce overheads associated with project development. Open design principles can be applied in engineering and technological applications, with projects in mobile telephony, small-scale manufacture, the automotive industry, and even agricultural areas.
Technologies such as distributed manufacturing can allow computer-aided manufacturing and computer-aided design techniques to be able to develop small-scale production of components for the development of new, or repair of existing, devices. Rapid fabrication technologies underpin these developments, which allow end users of technology to be able to construct devices from pre-existing blueprints, using software and manufacturing hardware to convert information into physical objects.
In academic work, free works are still a niche phenomenon, owing to the difficulty of establishing a fully qualified peer review process. Authors may see open access publishing as a method of expanding the audience that is able to access their work to allow for greater impact of the publication, or for ideological reasons. Despite these difficulties, groups such as the Public Library of Science and Biomed Central still provide capacity for review and publishing of free works; though such publications tend to be limited to fields such as life sciences. Some universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have adopted open access publishing by default. In traditional journals, alternatives such as delayed free publications or charging researchers for open access publishing are occasionally used. Some funding agencies require academic work to be published in the public domain as a grant requirement. Open content publication has been seen as a method of reducing costs associated with information retrieval in research, as universities typically pay to subscribe for access to content that is published through traditional means  whilst improving journal quality by discouraging the submission of research articles of reduced quality.
By contrast, subscriptions for non-free content journals may be expensive to universities themselves, particularly noteworthy when coupled to the fact that the content in the scientific articles are generated and peer-reviewed by the university staff themselves at no cost to the publisher. This has led to disputes between publishers and some universities over subscription costs.
For teaching purposes, some universities provide freely available course content, such as lecture notes, video resources and tutorials. This content is distributed via internet resources to the general public. Publication of such resources may be either by a formal institution-wide program, or alternately via informal content provided by individual academics or departments.
Technological developments have enabled distribution of otherwise inaccessible documentation in government to be made directly available to citizens from any location for minimal cost. This allows information on lawmaking, local and state government to be analysed by a government's constituents. Although previously information has been in the form of media releases for public relations purposes, documentation that may be of use to citizens and businesses has, in some jurisdictions, been mandated to be released by default. This is in contrast to laws such as the freedom of information act, or their local equivalent, which may make documentation available only on request, rather than mandate explicit publication. Such a stance has been cited as an aid to the reduction in complexity associated with government processes, as well as aiding a reduction in corruption.
The permissiveness of free content is highly subjective, as a balance between author generation and acceptable use is to be struck in the generation of such work. This balance is made, owing to the nature of copyright law, by the author after the content generation and prior to content distribution. Decisions on how permissive the work may be are usually thus made by the author, and may reflect personal or institutional beliefs.
For example, an author may choose to release their work into the public domain, and thus this may be freely used by anyone for any purpose, including commercial entities. This approach is criticised by those who perceive that commercial entities can thus sell these works without performing any useful service to the public, thus effectively restricting the content; this may be exacerbated if there is no requirement for the commercial vendor to disclose the public domain nature of the work. Subsequently a more "free" distribution, which technically has greater legal restrictions on use, could be utilised to enforce the requirement that vendors acknowledge the free nature of the work. Taking this even further, it may be that the work could be used as a component in a larger work; this is particularly true for works of a technical nature.
In such a case, the additional restriction on the free work to require derivative works that include the original free work can be made, such that the derived work must also be distributed in a free manner. This subset of free licenses are sometimes referred to as viral copyright licenses or Copyleft licenses and applies to licenses that contain a clause stating that any works derived from a free work must themselves be free when distributed, usually under the same license. This requirement may be criticised as legally constraining and therefore in some manner rendering the use of the "free" appellation inappropriate.
An example of one of these "viral licenses" is the GNU General Public License, which is often applied to computer programs. The viral nature of these licenses are seen as applying the ideology of the original licensor on subsequent redistributors. The criticism stems over a disagreement over the scope of freedom that licenses should attempt to enforce. That is whether licenses should aim to provide absolute freedom (to do whatever you please) versus an inalienable freedom (freedom to do anything but take away the freedom of another).
Alternatively, the economic model of free content is seen as a collaborative environment in which works are generated by authors themselves and then released with a free content licence. Subsequently, the economic sagacity of this model has been questioned. However, such criticism has, in itself, been seen as an expression of the changing role of the author in commercialisation of their works.
- Definition of Free Cultural Works
- Free and open source software
- Free art
- Free culture movement
- Freedom of information
- Free software movement
- Libre knowledge
- Open Content Alliance
- Open publishing
- Open source hardware
- Permissive free software licence
- Project Gutenberg
- Stallman, Richard (November 13, 2008). "Free Software and Free Manuals". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
- Anderson, Nate (July 16, 2008). "EU caves to aging rockers, wants 45-year copyright extension". Ars Technica. Retrieved August 8, 2008.
- Raymond, Eric S. "Copycenter". The Jargon File. Retrieved August 9, 2008.
- Dusollier, S (2003). "Open source and copyleft. Authorship reconsidered?". Columbia journal of Law and the Arts. 26 (296).
- Hall, G. Brent (2008). Open Source Approaches in Spatial Data Handling. Springer. p. 29. ISBN 354074830X. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
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- "iRate Radio". SourceForge.net. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
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- Andrew, Theo (October 30, 2003). "Trends in Self-Posting of Research Material Online by Academic Staff". Ariadne. UKOLN (37). ISSN 1361-3200. Retrieved March 22, 2009.
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- "MIT faculty open access to their scholarly articles". MIT news. 20 March 2009.
- "Policy of the Society for General Microbiology towards author self-archiving on PubMed Central and institutional and other repositories". Retrieved April 10, 2009.
- "OnlineOpen". Retrieved April 10, 2009.
- Haslam, Maryanne. "NHMRC Partnership Projects – Funding Policy" (PDF). National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Retrieved March 22, 2009.[dead link]
- "[[National Institute of Health|NIH]]". Retrieved July 12, 2009. URL–wikilink conflict (help)
- Mayor, Susan (April 19, 2003). "Libraries face higher costs for academic journals". BMJ: British Medical Journal. BMJ Group. 326 (7394): 840. PMC .
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- "Response from the University of California to the Public statement from Nature Publishing Group regarding subscription renewals at the California Digital Library" (PDF).
- Hawkes, Nigel (November 10, 2003). "Boycott 'greedy' journal publishers, say scientists". The Times. London.
- "About OpenCourseWare". Retrieved April 10, 2009.
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- Cho, Yong Hyo (10 January 2005). "E-Government to Combat Corruption: The Case of Seoul Metropolitan Government". International Journal of Public Administration. 27: 719–735. doi:10.1081/PAD-200029114.
- "Speech Transcript - Craig Mundie, The New York University Stern School of Business".
- D. Atkins, J. S. Brown, A. L. Hammond (February 2007). A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (PDF). Report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
- OECD – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: Giving Knowledge for free – The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. 2007, ISBN 926403174X.
- Definition of Free Cultural Works – A definition of "free content" or "free cultural works" similar to the free software definition
- "Episodes of collective invention" (PDF) (Peter B. Meyer; August 4, 2003) – article on several U.S.-oriented historical examples of free content in technology
- Open Knowledge Definition – project under the aegis of the Open Knowledge Foundation which provides a definition of "open" suitable for content and data
- What is free content? on Physicswiki