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Copyleft: Is it against Copyright?

Copyleft: Is it against Copyright?

Be it in music, literature, movies, or even software that our lives would be incomplete without, most of us are aware of the concept of copyrights. But, did you know that there exists a practice of ‘copyleft’ too? To know more about it, read further.

What is Copyleft?

As the name suggests, the idea of copyleft has the function which is just the opposite of copyright. While, copyright is used to protect your work from unauthorized usage, copyleft is used for sharing your work with the world.

Copyleft works are free to be used, modified and distributed by any person as long as they are not sold or distributed for commercial gains. Copyleft also requires that the sharing and distribution is not accompanied by the introduction of new terms of use or those which are different from the original terms and conditions. Some examples are Mozilla Public License, Eclipse Public License, Open Software License, Microsoft Reciprocal License.

Why use Copyleft?

It stems from the idea that not all creators are driven by monetization of their work, rather they want their work to be of use to others. Distribution of work through copyleft engages the user in the modification and development of the work, thus promoting principles of ‘shared assets’. This also allows the users to get access to affordable software without the fear of legal liability.

Nevertheless, some restrictions might be sought on this widespread use. This may include the prohibition of reselling this work for commercial purposes, or the destruction or mutilation of the work.

How is it different from Open Source and freeware?

When used for software, copyleft must be differentiated from the practices of Open-source software and freeware. In case of Open-source, the software may be sold or their modification may be restricted, depending on the terms and conditions. Copyleft can be seen as a sub-set of Open-source. On the other hand, freeware does not have its source code open for use to the public, rather the software is licensed without a fee or monetary compensation.

Is Copyleft a kind of Intellectual Property?

If we look at the fundamentals of intellectual property, the purpose is to determine the source or creator of a work. When we take away the element of commercialization and business use, copyleft does qualify as an intellectual property. It satisfies the other properties of the same as it recognises the creator/author, and also deals with licensing, based on certain terms and conditions, leaving it in the grey area of Intellectual Property Rights.

Is Copyleft against Copyright Law?

Due the name, there might be a misunderstanding that Copyleft is against is against the legal principles of Copyright. This assumption however, is not true. If anything, copyleft aids one of the fundamental principles of copyright, that is the benefit of the creator/author.

In Copyleft works, the authors would still get credit for the work while making it available for the public at large. This would help the author gain popularity and make the work reach a greater audience who can then use it for the purpose it was meant for. The distinction of copyleft with copyright lies in the fact that the use of the works does not require a monetary compensation, or even the legal formality of a license agreement. Thus, it reduces the restrictions applicable on copyright work, while protecting the inherent rights of the creator/author under the law.


The concept of Copyleft promotes the idea of sharing collective resources with the world. As discussed above, this concept is not opposed to the concept of Copyright. It can be perceived another tool to preserve the interests of the creator/author.

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