Free culture licenses

In this blog post, I just record the public free culture licenses I am aware of. The plan, when I can find the time, is to do an analysis of them, but for the time being, this page is just a placeholder for links to relevant material.

To paraphrase computer scientist Andy Tanenbaum: The nice thing about free culture public licenses is that there are so many of them to choose from. This statement is of course ironic. The really nice things about free culture public licenses is that they make it much more easy to adapt and to build on material, allowing creators to create new cultural works from old, such as remixes and mashups. In that context, license proliferation is bad. Incompatible licenses creates cultural silos of incompatibility. The impetus behind Wikipedia's massive re-licensing of its content from the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL) to the Creative Commons License in 2009 was a wish to make Wikipedia content compatible with and remixable with the majority of free cultural works created elsewhere.

Public licenses

The idea behind a public license is for the artist to give public permission to use the work up front so that someone who uses the work does not have to ask explicitly for permission.

Source Nina Paley. Used without permission.

Below is three lists of public licenses, divided into sections for artistic and literary works, etc., hardware and other man-made efforts, and free and open source software. Please use the comment facility to add any license you believe is significant enough to be listed.

My main interest is in the first category (public licenses created specifically for artistic and literary works). The two other categories are just listed for reference purposes.

Artistic and literary works, etc.

Below is the list of all the free culture licenses I am aware about that is suitable for artistic and literary works, as well as related rights and copyright-like rights such sui generis rights (i.e. those licenses that are for works and data other than hardware and software).

  1. Academic Free License 3.0
  2. Against DRM 2.0
  3. Creative Archive License (BBC)
  4. Creative Commons (suite of six licenses)
  5. Debian Video License
  6. Design Science License
  7. Digital Peer Publishing Licence
  8. EtaLab Licence Ouverte
  9. Europeana Licensing Framework
  10. Free Art License 1.3
  11. FreeBSD Documentation License
  12. GFDL 1.3
  13. Libre Puro License
  14. Lizenz für Freie Inhalte
  15. ODC Open Database License
  16. ODC Public Domain Dedication and License
  17. Open Directory License
  18. Open Gaming License
  19. Open Government Licence v. 3 (UK public sector)
  20. Open Publication License
  21. SIL Open Font License
  22. WTF Public License

Hardware, etc.

There are also some efforts to create free licenses for other man-made efforts, such as hardware.

  1. Balloon license
  2. IANG License
  3. TAPR Open Hardware License
  4. SolderPad Hardware License


There exits a lot of licenses initially created to license the use of free and open source software. The three pages below gives a good overview over these licenses:

Some free culture activists argue that a free software licenses (in particular the GPLv3) should also be used for non-software works because they offer features not found in other licenses, such as requiring adaptors to release “preferred form of the work for making modifications to it” (and not just the end result of any adaption process).

Analysing licenses

For a good (but dated) analysis of free and open public licenses, see the essay The Open Source Definition by Bruce Perens (in DiBona et al (eds.) Open Sources, O'Reilly, 1999).

Creative Commons has on its wiki a page describing CC license versions, listing all the attributes that has appeared in its evolving license.

The good people of the Free Cultural Works projects has created a table where they characterise some of free culture licenses (as well as some licenses primarily meant for free software). I must admit that I find their table somewhat confusing. In particular, the columns called “Practical modifiability” and “Related rights” seems to be partly wrong. Also, the column headed “Access control prohibition” fails to note that there are significant differences between the anti-DRM-clauses in the GFDL license and the CC licenses. But until I get around to creating my own table, the Free Cultural Works table is the only one that exists.

Another group analysing licenses is Copyfree.org. They believe that freedom is what matters and maintains two lists:

  1. Copyfree Licenses
  2. Rejected Licenses

Simone Aliprandi's blog has a note about classifying open data licenses.

Below is my own preliminary list of dimensions for making comparisons for licenses for free cultural works:

  • Copyleft: yes / no.
  • Permit derivative works: yes / no.
  • Permit incorporation in non-free collections: yes / no.
  • Permit commercial use: yes / no.
  • Moral rights clauses: explicit(1) / implicit.
  • Logo, or similar, mandatory (aka. advertising clause): yes / no
  • DRM-clause: yes(2) / no
  • Territory: global / limited
  • Technology neutral: yes / no(3)
  • License translations: yes(4) / no
  1. Large differences in scope and direction for licenses that regulates moral rights explicitly through the license text.
  2. Large differences in the DRM-clause. Need to be discussed later.
  3. Notes should note how the license fails to address certain types of technology.
  4. Some of the licenses provide exact translations of the license text to other languages. Other not only translate, but also adept to local law.