Copyright and Copyleft

Copyright law applies to nearly all creative and intellectual works and works are protected automatically without copyright notice or registration.

The nature of the law is to tie the creative works with individuals/corporate companies not allowing the work to be publicly available for further use and improvements. The irony is that it is publishers and recorders whose interest led to the formation of  copyright law not the interest of authors.

When we historify  it is understood that all intellectual properties or creative works were made on top of some other intellectual properties. When we trace back to the origin of first intellectual properly( there is nothing called first intellectual property, but for the argument sake) it can be seen that origin of such creative works were from nature.  To be specific every creation is  the result  of exchange of ideas and knowledge sharing that have taken place throughout the history. Copyright law is basically an offense to such an argument.

Anti-copyright voices also have its root in history. Famous author Leo Tolstoy wanted to ensure that, everybody who wanted to read his books could do so for free. And he tried to do whatever possible to that happen by writing a will. But The copyright laws of the Russian Empire, however, made Tolstoy’s dream impossible.  In 2003, Eben Moglen, a professor of Law at Columbia University, published the dotCommunist Manifesto, which re-interpreted the Communist Manifesto by Marx in the light of the development of computer technology and the internet; much of the re-interpreted content discussed copyright law and privilege in Marxist terms.

Currently, there are groups advocating the abolition of copyright. Kopimi an anti-copyright initiative developed by the Piratbyrå in Sweeden, Pirate Cinema and groups like The League of Noble Peers are leading names that argue and campaign for abolishing  modern copyright law.

On continuing the fight against copyright one option was to violate the law and keep sharing materials to public “illegally” with a risk of ending up in jail. “Vigilant” state and a court would ensure that you go to jail or punished for doing so framing you as criminal or anti-national. What happened to Aaron Swartz is evident that state could go to any extreme to uphold what they think is correct.

The another option was to develop alternative platforms within the frame of current copyright law where some of the rights of copying or sharing of intellectual property are made possible. This is what gave birth to the idea of copyleft. Copyleft  mandates redistribution of an intellectual  property by tweaking or hacking ownership definition of copyright law. Copyleft is not a different law , it is part of copyright law.

How is that possible ?The copyright law grants to copyright owners a series or bundle of specified rights

Reproduction of works
Distribution of copies
Making of derivative works
Public performance and display of works.
In addition, certain works of visual art have moral rights regarding the name of the artist on the work or preventing the destruction of them.
Copyright owners may also have rights to prevent anyone from circumventing technological protection systems that control access to the works.

Based on this clauses a creator can decide what rights her creative works should have. This is nothing new, a creator could have made her work available to others to use,modify or distribute before the idea of copyleft was introduced. However, the cost of publishing creators works leads creators to assign her rights to publishers temporarily or permanently. From then publishers own the right of that particular work.

The Internet made publishing cost to come down drastically that fueled more creative works to be available for public and one of the main reason behind the success of “Free Software” and Creative Commons.

Copyleft license mandates below freedoms through certain licenses(collectively called as copyleft licenses) which are legal. i.e any creative works licensed under copyleft licenses are allowed to be used by anyone with some or no restriction.

0. the freedom to use the work,

1. the freedom to study the work,

2. the freedom to copy and share the work with others,

3. the freedom to modify the work, and the freedom to distribute modified and therefore derivative works.

The hack in copyleft license is that any derived work from a copyleft licensed work has to be published under the same copyleft license. This is to ensure that no one controls any such creative work as long as current copyright law is not modified.

On top of it, after a certain period, all creative works goes to public domain which is basically non-copyrighted anyone is free to use/distribute or make derivative out of it. Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable. One such collection of public domain music is musopen initiative. This portal provides a collection of public domain music that can be used by anyone without worrying about the copyright infringement and court cases.

The main reason why Shakespeare is the most quoted author in the world is because his works are in  public domain. History has already proven that when there are lesser restriction a literature work, song or any forms of intellectual property reaches to maximum people which every creator would love to see.


Most of the time mainstream discussions are fragmented and around the subject which ignores the social aspect without which it is incomplete.

How about saying  science in history instead of the history of science ?

How about thinking this way that “Computer is a product of social evolution” , so “Internet” ?

In a different context How about claiming that it is the people of India fought for the Independence from British, not few individuals ?

When it comes to “Free Software movement”, how about arguing Free Software movement is also a product of certain social circumstances ?

We all know that Free Software has evolved as a counter action against the control of ownership of ideas. Here we fight for the natural rights taken away from us. We are building an alternative platform where our natural rights of copying, sharing etc are reinforced by our own effort.

Is Free Software  a unique phenomenon without any correlation with other struggles that include the struggle  for better living conditions , the right to natural resources etc ?

The more we discuss the more we understand. The more we understand, our act would be more effective. Let’s discuss, debate and act

Computer programs (software) were free one point of time !!

Whether you know it or not computer programs were free one point of time , “Free as in Freedom” not as free as in free beer or free movie ticket.

At that time software was “free” by default. Sharing of software was not restricted in any manner. In the early 1970s and 80s situation started changing , software has started becoming a commodity. Many players entered into software development foreseeing probable multi-million software market in the future.Those Hacker communities then existed just disappeared, along with the freedom to share a software or piece of code. The natural right of copying banned by laws. More and more laws and policies were introduced in favor of corporate to help them in making money out of software business

Every social struggle arise from denial of some rights , By 70s and 80s such a counter movement started forming called as Free Software Movement,  with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedom to run the software, to study and change the software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. Although drawing on traditions and philosophies among members of the 1970s hacker culture and academia, Richard Stallman formally founded the movement in 1983 by launching the GNU Project. Free Software has shaped up to an extent that you get alternative for almost all proprietary software that is available in market today and many of them are qualitatively better than it’s opposite.

Reading The dotCommunist Manifesto

About Auther
The dotCommunist Manifesto was written by Eben Moglen  a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University, and is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Center. Moglen set up Freedom Box Foundation. The FreedomBox aims to be an affordable personal server which runs only free software, with a focus on anonymous and secure communication. He is also an activist and close ally of free software movement. Moglen played key role in framing GPL V 3 license.

The dotCommunist Manifesto is inspired from Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto which is considered as Bible of working class in the world. Marx’s The Communist Manifesto urges for a revolution that is to overthrow oppressing bourgeoisie class to build a better ,classless society in which all property is owned by the “community” and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.  When it comes to dotCommunist Manifesto Eben narrow down the context to  “free information” and  go on narrating evolution, development , current state of free information and finally how to change it from its current state of commodity to a more democratic and equally accessible entity.

Notes from my reading

A spectre is haunting multinational capitalism–the spectre of free information. All the powers of “globalism” have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this specter: Microsoft ,  Facebook and Disney, the World Trade Organization, the United States Congress and the European Commission.

Those who voice against the act of commodifying  and monopolizing of free information are labelled as  pirates, anarchists and communists through the tools of media and power that is currently held by bourgeoisie class.

Modern industrialisation also called as Fordist style of production demands more consumers. Civilisation of proleteriate become self protective programs of bourgeoisie to produce more consumers.

With universal education, workers became literate in the media that could stimulate them to additional consumption.

With the adoption of digital technology, the system of mass consumer production supported by mass consumer culture gave birth to new social conditions. Digital technology transforms the bourgeois economy.

With the help of digital technology bourgeoisie  alienated creator of any forms of intellectual property.  For example music was a perishable intellectual property which has to be always enjoyed live. But with the help of recording techniques and Internet music can be recorded and transferred to anywhere and anyone. And thus commodified.

Barriers of social inequality and geographic isolation dissolve. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of people.  And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual people become common property.

But the bourgeoisie system of ownership  demands that knowledge and culture be rationed by the ability to pay.

Throughout the digital society the classes of knowledge workers–artists, musicians, writers, students, technologists and others trying to gain in their conditions of life by copying and modifying information–are radicalized by the conflict between what they know is possible and what the ideology of the bourgeois compels them to accept. Out of that discordance arises the consciousness of a new class, and with its rise to self-consciousness the fall of ownership begins.

Creators of knowledge, technology, and culture discover that they no longer require the structure of production based on ownership and the structure of distribution based on coercion of payment.

Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons–the digital working class–the creators.

Creators collectively wielding control over the network of human communications retain their individuality, and offer the value of their intellectual labor through a variety of arrangements more favorable to their welfare, and to their freedom, than the system of bourgeois ownership ever conceded them.

That leads new developments

Free Software
Free Network etc

In the new digital society, creators establish genuinely free forms of economic activity, the dogma of bourgeois property comes into active conflict with the dogma of bourgeois freedom.

Protecting the ownership of ideas requires the suppression of free technology, which means the suppression of free speech. The power of the State is employed to prohibit free creation.  The bourgeoisie attempts the re imposition of coercion through its preferred instrument of compulsion, the institutions of its law. Eg copyright law, patent laws and so. Aaron Swartz, Chelsea Manning were victims of such an act.

It is in the domain of technology that the defeat of ownership finally occurs, as the new modes of production and distribution burst the fetters of the outmoded law.  Free information movements to act as a catalyst here.

Theirs is the revolutionary dedication to freedom: to the abolition of the ownership of ideas, to the free circulation of knowledge, and the restoration of culture as the symbolic commons that all human beings share.

The measures by which we advance that struggle will of course be different in different countries, but the following will be pretty generally applicable:

  • Abolition of all forms of private property in ideas.
  • Withdrawal of all exclusive licenses, privileges and rights to use of electromagnetic spectrum. Nullification of all conveyances of permanent title to electromagnetic frequencies.
  • Development of electromagnetic spectrum infrastructure that implements every person’s equal right to communicate.
  • Common social development of computer programs and all other forms of software, including genetic information, as public goods.
  • Full respect for freedom of speech, including all forms of technical speech.
  • Protection for the integrity of creative works.
  • Free and equal access to all publicly-produced information and all educational material used in all branches of the public education system.

By these and other means, we commit ourselves to the revolution that liberates the human mind. In overthrowing the system of private property in ideas, we bring into existence a truly just society, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.