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Difference Between Copyright and Copyleft

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Manish Jindal

December 9, 2023

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Difference Between Copyright and Copyleft

Copyright and Copyleft are distinct concepts that fall under the umbrella of intellectual property rights.

Copyright is a legal concept that provides exclusive rights to creators, while Copyleft is a licensing method that encourages the unrestricted sharing, modification, and utilisation of creative works.

The fundamental difference lies in the permissions and restrictions associated with each concept.

Copyright restricts the unauthorised use and reproduction of protected works, whereas Copyleft allows for the freedom to copy, modify, and distribute works while ensuring that the same freedoms are preserved for subsequent users.

Understanding these differences is crucial for navigating the complex landscape of intellectual property rights and determining the appropriate licensing approach for creative works.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal concept that grants exclusive rights to the creators or authors of original works, protecting their intellectual property.

Creators are granted the power to regulate the usage, duplication, distribution, presentation, and modification of their work through this.

Illustration

Imagine you have just finished penning a captivating novel.

With copyright protection, you gain exclusive rights to control the use and distribution of your literary masterpiece.

The statement asserts that the book is protected by exclusive rights, and any reproduction, adaptation, or publication requires prior consent.

A publishing house has expressed interest in your novel and extended a publishing offer.

The contract includes provisions for printing and distributing physical copies of the book within a specified timeframe.

In return, you receive royalties from the sales, ensuring you are compensated for your creativity and hard work.

Without copyright, anyone could freely reproduce your book, claim it as their own, or profit from it without giving you credit.

It safeguards your intellectual property, empowering you to protect your literary creation and reap the rewards of your literary success.

Related Article: Compulsory licensing in copyright

Copyleft

Copyleft is a method that ensures software remains free and open-source, granting freedom to users to use, modify, and distribute the program and its subsequent versions.

Unlike traditional copyright, which restricts certain uses and modifications, copyleft aims to preserve the software’s essential freedoms.

The concept of copyleft is achieved by attaching a license, such as the GNU General Public License (GPL), to the software.

This license mandates that any modifications or extensions made to the original program must also be distributed under the same copyleft license.

This ensures that the software and its derivatives remain freely accessible to all users, preventing them from being converted into proprietary software.

Key Features of Copyleft

Copyleft, derived from the open-source movement, is characterised by several key features that promote collaboration and the free sharing of software:

  1. Freedom to Sell and Redistribute: Copyleft licenses do not impose restrictions on selling or redistributing the software. Users have the freedom to distribute the software to others without limitations.
  2. Allowance for Modified and Derivative Works: Copyleft licenses enable users to create modified or derivative works based on the original software. These modifications can be freely distributed under the same copyleft license terms.
  3. Consistent License Terms: Copyleft ensures that all parties who receive the software are subject to the same license terms. This requirement maintains the integrity of the copyleft license and ensures equal rights for all users.
  4. Availability of Source Code: Copyleft licenses mandate that the source code of the software be made available to users. This facilitates further development and encourages transparency within the software community.
  5. Recognition of Contributors: Copyleft licenses emphasise acknowledging the contributions of each author to the software. This fosters a collaborative environment and recognises the collective effort behind the project.
  6. No Warranties: Copyleft licenses typically disclaim any warranties regarding the performance of the software or the infringement of intellectual property rights. Users are responsible for using the software at their own risk.

By incorporating these features, copyleft licenses aim to promote a culture of openness, collaboration, and the free exchange of knowledge within the software community.

Difference Between Copyright and Copyleft

Base of DifferenceCopyrightCopyleft
DefinitionGrants exclusive rights to the original creator or owner of a work.Emphasises collaborative sharing and free distribution of software.
AllowsImposes restrictions on copying, distribution, and modification of the work.Allows copying, distribution, and modification of the work under certain conditions.
Need of permissionRequires explicit permission from the copyright holder to use or modify the work.Permits anyone to use, modify, and distribute the work, as long as they abide by the copyleft license terms.
Users
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By providing personal incentives through copyright control, it protects the interests of society in innovation and creativity.It expands the scope of its rights to the general public rather than limiting them to a single individual or a small number of individuals.  
FocusProtects the rights of the original creator or owner by preventing unauthorised use or distribution of the work.Focuses on promoting the freedom to use, modify, and share software within the boundaries of the copyleft license.
Used forOften used for creative works such as books, music, films, and artwork.Primarily used in the context of software development and open-source projects.
ExampleIf you create a song and someone else wants to use it in their film, they need to obtain permission from you and potentially pay a licensing fee for the rights to use your copyrighted song.Red Hat Enterprise Linux is a commercial operating system. It allows users to freely modify and redistribute the source code. However, there is a restriction that prohibits users from reselling the software.
NatureCopyright has a prohibitive aspect, meaning it forbids third parties from making use of exclusive author rights.Even with appropriate limits, the Copyleft license is comparatively liberal with regard to rights given to third parties.
Denoted byIt is symbolised by the © symbolThe mirror image of the copyright symbol is denoted as the copyleft symbol.
DurationThe standard duration for copyright protection of an artist’s work is usually 60 years following their passing.The duration of a copyleft license is equivalent to that of a copyright.

Creative Commons and Copyleft

Copyleft licensing is a type of Creative Commons license.

This system grants creators the ability to share their work without infringing on copyright, as long as users adhere to the specific terms of the license.

Creative Commons licenses come in various types, each with its own set of requirements.

However, one common thread among them is the importance of attribution.

Users are expected to give credit to the original creator and abide by the conditions specified in the license.

One intriguing aspect of copyleft licensing is that it is irrevocable.

When you decide to make your source code or other copyrighted material available to others, you are essentially granting them perpetual access.

This means that as your creation evolves and potentially becomes lucrative, you must carefully consider your intentions and aspirations for the work.

Understanding Creative Commons and Copyleft can help individuals in various fields navigate intellectual property and promote creativity while respecting the rights of others.

Conclusion

The difference between copyright and copyleft lies in their approaches to the rights and freedoms of creators and users.

Copyright places power in the hands of the copyright owner, granting exclusive control over their work and requiring individual permission for any use or modification.

The idea behind copyright is to protect the rights of creators and ensure they are recognised and rewarded for their creations.

On the other hand, copyleft, particularly in relation to software development, embodies a more open and collaborative form of licensing.

It allows users the freedom to use, modify, and distribute the work, provided that they adhere to the licensing agreement and distribute their modifications under the same terms.

This core concept of copyleft emphasises user freedom and the idea that ideas in material form should be freely accessible to all.

One notable aspect of copyleft is that it challenges the traditional legal structure of copyright law by flipping the power dynamics.

The goal is to balance the rights of creators with the freedom of users by promoting the distribution of source code and encouraging collaboration.

Instead of a single person or entity controlling the work, the copyleft concept fosters a community-driven approach.

Ultimately, both copyright and copyleft offer protection under copyright law, but they differ in their approaches to creator protection and the rights granted to users.

While copyright focuses on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner, copyleft seeks to empower users to build upon existing creations and contribute to collective knowledge and innovation.

FAQs

For how long copyleft is valid?

A copyleft license commonly remains valid for the duration of the copyright on the original work.

A license is not necessary to use a work once the copyright term has passed because it is regarded as being in the public domain.

What is an example of a copyleft?

The GPL is an example of a copyleft license. It allows for the revised work to be released under the original licensing terms only.

What is the concept of copyleft?

The concept of copyleft is a licensing approach that aims to ensure the continued freedom of creative work or software.

The license permits the usage, modification, and distribution of the work, provided that any modifications or derived works adhere to the same licensing terms.

Copyleft licenses aim to promote collaboration, sharing, and the preservation of user freedoms.

What is the copyleft symbol?

The mirror image of the symbol for copyright is used to indicate it.

What are copyright and copyleft?

Copyright provides creators and authors of original works with exclusive rights to manage the use, distribution, and reproduction of their work within a legal framework.

Copyleft is a term that promotes the free use, copying, and modification of materials, as opposed to copyright. It emphasises the availability of works for others to use and modify without restriction.

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