This document defines "Free Cultural Works" as works or expressions
which can be freely studied, applied, copied and/or modified, by anyone,
for any purpose. It also describes certain permissible restrictions
that respect or protect these essential freedoms. The definition
distinguishes between free works
, and free licenses
which can be used to legally protect the status of a free work. The definition itself is not
a license; it is a tool to determine whether a work or license should be considered "free."
Social and technological advances make it possible for a growing part of humanity to access, create, modify, publish and distribute
various kinds of works - artworks, scientific and educational materials, software, articles - in short: anything that can be represented in digital form
. Many communities have formed to exercise those new possibilities and create a wealth of collectively re-usable works.
Most authors, whatever their field of activity, whatever their
amateur or professional status, have a genuine interest in favoring an
ecosystem where works can be spread, re-used and derived in creative
ways. The easier it is to re-use and derive works, the richer our
To ensure the graceful functioning of this ecosystem, works of authorship should be free
, and by freedom
- the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
- the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
- the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works
If authors do not take action, their works are covered by existing
copyright laws, which severely limit what others can and cannot do.
Authors can make their works free by choosing among a number of legal
documents known as licenses. For an author, choosing to put their work
under a free license
does not mean that they lose all their rights, but it gives to anyone the freedoms listed above.
It is important that any work that claims to be free provides,
practically and without any risk, the aforementioned freedoms. This is
why we hereafter give a precise definition of freedom
for licenses and for works of authorship.
Identifying Free Cultural Works
This is the Definition of Free Cultural Works
, and when
describing your work, we encourage you to make reference to this
definition, as in, "This is a freely licensed work, as explained in the Definition of Free Cultural Works
If you do not like the term "Free Cultural Work," you can use the
generic term "Free Content," or refer instead to one of the existing movements
that express similar freedoms in more specific contexts. We also encourage you to use the Free Cultural Works logos and buttons
, which are in the public domain.
Please be advised that such identification does not
actually confer the rights described in this definition; for your work to be truly free, it must use one of the Free Culture Licenses
or be in the public domain.
We discourage you to use other terms to identify Free Cultural
Works which do not convey a clear definition of freedom, such as "Open
Content" and "Open Access." These terms are often used to refer to
content which is available under "less restrictive" terms than those of
existing copyright laws, or even for works that are just "available on
Defining Free Culture Licenses
Licenses are legal instruments through which the owner of certain
legal rights may transfer these rights to third parties. Free Culture
Licenses do not take any rights away -- they are always optional to
accept, and if accepted, they grant freedoms which copyright law alone
does not provide. When accepted, they never limit or reduce existing
exemptions in copyright laws.
In order to be recognized as "free" under this definition, a license must grant the following freedoms without limitation:
- The freedom to use and perform the work: The licensee must
be allowed to make any use, private or public, of the work. For kinds of
works where it is relevant, this freedom should include all derived
uses ("related rights") such as performing or interpreting the work.
There must be no exception regarding, for example, political or
- The freedom to study the work and apply the information: The
licensee must be allowed to examine the work and to use the knowledge
gained from the work in any way. The license may not, for example,
restrict "reverse engineering".
- The freedom to redistribute copies: Copies may be sold,
swapped or given away for free, as part of a larger work, a collection,
or independently. There must be no limit on the amount of information
that can be copied. There must also not be any limit on who can copy the
information or on where the information can be copied.
- The freedom to distribute derivative works: In order to give
everyone the ability to improve upon a work, the license must not limit
the freedom to distribute a modified version (or, for physical works, a
work somehow derived from the original), regardless of the intent and
purpose of such modifications. However, some restrictions may be applied
to protect these essential freedoms or the attribution of authors (see
Not all restrictions on the use or distribution of works impede
essential freedoms. In particular, requirements for attribution, for
symmetric collaboration (i.e., "copyleft"), and for the protection of
essential freedom are considered permissible restrictions
Defining Free Cultural Works
In order to be considered free, a work must
be covered by a Free Culture License, or its legal status must
provide the same essential freedoms
enumerated above. It is not, however, a sufficient condition. Indeed, a
specific work may be non-free in other ways that restrict the essential
freedoms. These are the additional conditions in order for a work to be
- Availability of source data: Where a final work has been
obtained through the compilation or processing of a source file or
multiple source files, all underlying source data should be available
alongside the work itself under the same conditions. This can be the
score of a musical composition, the models used in a 3D scene, the data
of a scientific publication, the source code of a computer application,
or any other such information.
- Use of a free format: For digital files, the format in which
the work is made available should not be protected by patents, unless a
world-wide, unlimited and irrevocable royalty-free grant is given to
make use of the patented technology. While non-free formats may
sometimes be used for practical reasons, a free format copy must be available for the work to be considered free.
- No technical restrictions: The work must be available in a form where no technical measures are used to limit the freedoms enumerated above.
- No other restrictions or limitations: The work itself must
not be covered by legal restrictions (patents, contracts, etc.) or
limitations (such as privacy rights) which would impede the freedoms
enumerated above. A work may make use of existing legal exemptions to
copyright (in order to cite copyrighted works), though only the portions
of it which are unambiguously free constitute a free work.
In other words, whenever the user of a work cannot legally or
practically exercise his or her basic freedoms, the work cannot be
considered and should not be called "free."
- See Licenses for discussion of individual licenses, and whether they meet this definition or not.
- See History for acknowledgments and background on this definition.
- See the FAQ for some questions and answers.
- See Portal:Index for topic-specific pages about free cultural works.
New versions of this definition shall be released as soon as a consensus (achieved directly or through a vote, as per the authoring process
has developed around suggested changes. Numbering shall be 0.x for
initial draft releases, 1.x, 2.x .. for major releases, x.1, x.2 .. for
minor releases. A minor release is made when the text is modified in
ways which do not have an impact on the scope of existing or
hypothetical licenses covered by this definition.