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Intellectual Property Laws are framed to protect the interests of commercial publishers and to restrict the use of creative works among authorised users. Distribution of copyright-free works has become popular with the advent of the Internet. Professionals, educational and research institutions, libraries, archives and media institutions are active in the publishing of copyleft works. The respect and recognition obtained from society are the motivation behind the creation of free content by authors. Educational and research institutions are at the forefront of releasing publications and documents for free access with copyleft licenses.

What is copyleft?

Copyleft is a way of allowing free use of artistic, literacy, and intellectual works for society while retaining copyright with the creators. Contrary to Copyright, the public is free to use, and distribute the copyleft works. As per the prominent copyleft licenses, if another work is created based on a copyleft work, the new work is liable to receive the same copyleft license followed by the original work.

The Free Software movement fostered the idea of copyleft in modern times. They developed copyleft licenses for the use and distribution of Free software. The first license for free software distribution was the GNU General Public License, which was created in 1988. GNU Free Documentation License is a license that was developed in 2008 to distribute software manuals.

Why copyleft?

Freedom of thought, research and developments are the main reasons behind the progress of humanity. Various diseases that have threatened the world have been eradicated with the output of medical research. Smallpox was a terrible disease that killed millions of people in the world. Edward Jenner, an English physician, developed the vaccine for smallpox and released it to the community for free use. If he had kept the vaccine treatment process private, smallpox treatment would have become expensive. It would not have benefited all sections of society.

The usage of intellectual and creative works increases when it is available free of cost. The creator gets more fame when it is used for the benefit of society. Majority of the copyrighted literary and scholarly publications are not circulated well and remain idle in publishing houses or bookstores. If the publications are made available on the Internet with copyleft, more people will get the opportunity to read them. More chances are there to get comments and suggestions from readers. An updated version of the book can also be published soon after gathering comments and suggestions.

The concept of copyleft is gaining momentum in the distribution of research publications. Researchers rely on scholarly publications, which discuss the research in progress, to keep in touch with the latest trends. Majority of the research activities in all countries are led by institutions with government funding. Publishing research results in scholarly journals are mandatory as part of the research process. Researchers are interested in publishing research-related articles in journals with high impact factor. Majority of such publications are run by commercial publishing houses. Commercial publishing houses own the copyright of published research articles. They make huge profits by selling research publications at a higher price. They sell the publications at high prices to research and educational institutions. A large portion of the annual allocation fund of research and Higher Education Institutions are spent to buy research publications. It is necessary for the academic community to read articles that discuss the research activities in the same area. Researchers feel difficulties in accessing the publications due to strict copyright and high-price. Open Access is an initiative to eliminate the dominance of commercial interests in scholarly publishing and to make scholarly publications freely available to the public. They encourage researchers to publish articles with a copyleft license.

Copyleft licenses

By accepting Copyleft Licenses, the literary, artistic and scientific works are released to the public for free use. Copyleft licenses are framed with the terms and conditions for free use to the public. Open licenses ensure the copyright of the creator on the work. Creator of the work can accept a license comprehensively prepared for copyleft. Although many copyleft licenses are available, most of them are written for Free software distribution. The Free Software Foundation has defined the freedoms offered by Free software. Most copyleft licenses have been prepared based on the GNU General Public License. Copyleft licenses give the following privileges to users of the copylefted works:

  • Right to use the work.
  • Right to study.
  • Freedom to copy and share with others.
  • The freedom to modify, release and redistribute.

The Free Software Foundation classifies licenses as those for software distribution, for software documentation, and for other purposes. They again categorise the licenses for arts and literature to ‘Licenses for other purposes’. Free Software Foundation highlights the Creative Commons Licenses which are suitable for the distribution of artistic and literary works.

Source: Vimal Kumar V., An Introduction to Self-publishing, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

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