Copyright or Copyleft?

I recently stumbled upon a concept called “copyleft,” a play on the word “copyright.” The term has been around for quite some time, but I had never heard of it.

Basically, I would use copyleft if I create a work and wish to give anyone else the right to distribute, modify, and share it. I also would insist that anyone who modifies my creation must agree to pass on the right to distribute, modify, and share the new adaptation that ensues. All versions that future adaptors create should also be made available for modifying and sharing down the line at no cost.

The goal of copyright, of course, is to ensure that the creator of the art, software, or literary effort will receive monetary gain in addition to recognition. Under copyleft, on the other hand, derivative works are allowed as long as their creators insist that other users who adapt and distribute the new works do so at no cost to recipients. The original creator may require that all future derivatives give credit to him or her, but monetary gain is neither required nor expected.

The term “kopyleft” was used as early as the 1960s, in Principia Discordia, or How the West Was Lost (1965), later revised as How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything. One of these original versions (I could not find out which one) contained a K in a circle followed by the words All Rights Reversed—Reprint What You Like.

The concept of copyleft was used by Richard Stallman, a software expert, as a result of what he perceived as a wrong. When Stallman was working on a Lisp interpreter and Symbolics asked to use his code, he provided them with a public domain copy, giving them the right to use his creation and modify it at will. Later, when Stallman asked them to give him a copy of the code they had developed using his software, they refused.

Stallman called this “system hoarding” and began working to prevent such tactics in the future. Around 1984 he created the first copyleft license. His goal was not to deny copyright as it is historically understood, but he believed that the creator of a work could allow others to revise the original as long as future revisers allow others to do the same.

Copyleft is often used for software. The creator gives anyone else the right to modify and share the code, as long as the recipient insists that the resulting software could be used and modified. Creative Commons provides ShareAlike, which uses a similar license.

Copyleft is still being used mainly for software; however, an amazing artist who supports copyleft is Nina Paley. She gives anyone the right to distribute and adapt her work as long as the adapter allows the same rights down the line.

Currently, there are four levels of permission. Copyleft can be divided into “full” and “partial,” and different countries have different laws for copyleft. At this time the backwards C in a circle has no legal significance; instead, the copyleft terms should be stated in words.

I recently attended a workshop held by a lawyer who is an expert in intellectual property rights. She said that many young people believe that all works should be free to everyone with no restrictions on copying or revising the original.

What are your thoughts?

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