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Copyleft: What it is and how it works

by Canto  |  November 19, 2020

3 min. read

Copyleft is a license that enables the practice of intellectual property to be shared and modified. It removes restrictions and gives users freedom in their ability to develop works beneficial to a community of licensed members. Copyleft provides continuing access and gives future users the same rights afforded to the creator. Let’s look at what copyleft is and how it supports development and collaboration.

What is copyleft?

Copyleft is committed to the unrestricted use and modification of creative works from the arts, technology and software. Unlike copyright, which gives sole legal ownership of creation by a person or organization, copyleft allows for works to be manipulated.

Described as a collaborative license, copyleft enables users to share, modify and manipulate works. Although there is a fee to register, a licensed member can change selected works without fear of legal retribution. Copyleft removes the single ownership of creation and makes modifications available for everyone.

copyleft logo

How copyleft works

Copyleft is implemented within general and open source licenses. The free use of copyleft doesn’t relate to the removal of a fee, it means users of software are free to change information and files are accessible to the masses.

2 types of license:

  • GPL for software
  • Creative Commons for artworks

Copyleft affords the same rights from the creator of a work to an end-user. And the right to modify remains regardless of any modifications made to technology, such as computer code or software programs. You have the same rights as the creator and the entire licensed community who have access to the creation.

The purpose of copyleft

Copyleft demands future users of works are afforded the same freedoms to modify or manipulate an original work. Once someone has a copyleft license they are free to manipulate and develop work. Future users are then afforded the same rights.

Here’s an example: a song is written and shared within a copyleft licensed community. A licensed user then downloads the music. They add a guitar solo and drum beat. The user also changes the original words and adds vocals to the song. This is all legal and available for future modification by another person.

And that’s how copyleft works – those who are part of a licensed community are free to use and have their works used and modified without fear of legal recourse. This premise works well in the software and technology spheres and is often how advancements are discovered.

copyleft and copyright logos

5 copyleft license benefits:

  • Code development within a community for improved efficiency
  • Software program updates taken care of by others
  • Technological bugs and advancements discovered by active users
  • Removal of legal boundaries for more creative discoveries
  • Customizable software tailored for specific user needs

In its essence, the goal of copyleft isn’t completely alien to copyright in the sense of regulation. However, where it drastically differs is in the freedom it gives users to modify and advance works without concern for legal retribution.

Where copyright is focused on ownership and protection from unsolicited reuse, copyleft protects those who use and modify works. Enjoy collaborating with a license that gives equal access to everyone.