Free Culture Definition

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There are so many things that make up our culture:

  • texts like instruction manuals, plays, poems, essays and novels
  • sounds like music, speeches, discussions, sound effects
  • images like photographs, diagrams, illustrations, comics and pictures
  • videos like movies, cartoons, TV shows and documentaries
  • software like programs, scripts, free games, interactive presentations


We call all of these things cultural artifacts. Yeah, it's a high-falutin' word, but there's just not another one that covers all this stuff. Cultural artifacts are the vehicles for the flow of ideas and feelings between author and audience, programmer and user, community and individual.

A cultural artifact is Free Culture if everyone has the following freedoms with respect to the text, sound, image, video, or software.

  1. Freedom to use. People should be able to use the artifact however they want, in whatever medium they want, for whatever purpose. They should be allowed to adapt the artifact to their life rather than the other way around. They should be able to copy the artifact from one computer to another, from one medium to another, from one physical place to another. They should be able to print the artifact out, translate text to sound, sounds to text, movies to still photos. They should be able to use the artifact to help them in any pursuit whatsoever, commercial or not.
  2. Freedom to understand. People should be able to "get under the hood" and see how the cultural artifact works. They should be able to see how something was made, and understand the author's technique and technics. People should be allowed to take an active role in their own cultural experience.
  3. Freedom to share. People should be able to make copies of the artifact in any medium, for personal or public use. They should be able to share the copies with friends or colleagues or strangers. They should be allowed to sell the copies for whatever price they can get. They should be allowed to perform the artifact's instructions in public or private, for pay or gratis.
  4. Freedom to modify. People should be able to use the cultural artifact as the basis for expressing their own creativity. They should be able to fix factual errors or change opinions expressed. They should be able to remix, recycle, and reduplicate. They should be able to quote, cite, sample, mash-up, montage and collage.
  5. Freedom to have freedoms. People should be able to exercise these freedoms for any purpose: education, business, research, art, personal enrichment, world domination. People should be able to exercise their freedoms no matter who they are, what they do, or where they live.

If the author of an artifact ensures (to the best of their ability) these Freedoms for everyone in the world, or if there are no barriers to exercising these Freedoms (if the artifact is in the public domain), we call the artifact Free Culture. Barriers to these fredoms may include refusal to make available underlying source data alongside the work itself under the same conditions, such as the score of a musical composition, the models used in a 3D scene, the data of a scientific publication, the source code of a computer application, or any other such information. It may include making the work available only in a non-free format protected by patents, or technical measures or legal restrictions or limitations such as contracts or privacy rights which would impede the freedoms listed above. A work which uses existing legal exemptions such as copyright in order to cite works may be considered free, though only the portions of it which are unambiguously free constitute a free work.

Often, authors will use a Free Culture license to make sure derivative versions of a work are kept Free. Creative Commons and Copyleft licenses often restrict use or distribution of a work if such prevents future access to the essential freedoms stated above. These are considered acceptable restrictions, and may include requirements for attribution, symmetric collaboration, requirements to distribute source code, or restrictions on commerical use.


The above list of freedoms is based on the Free Software Definition, somewhat modified to deal with other kinds of Free Culture besides software, and from Freedom Defined