Freedom as concept

From WikiEducator
Jump to: navigation, search

Gratis versus libre

In the free software community Gratis is associated with Free Beer.
In English, the adjective "free" has two meanings, as you likely discovered in your dictionary search on the previous page: the concept free in the English Language is used as an adjective to refer both to no price (gratis) and freedom (libre).

However, the Romance languages do distinguish between these concepts giving rise to the gratis versus libre discussions found in the free software community.[1] This is an important distinction when dealing with differences between information (such as educational content) and property (such as a published book using copyright with all rights reserved).

Richard Stallman, who founded the Free Software Foundation, articulates this difference as follows:

Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of free as in free speech, not as in free beer. [2]

In the free software community, gratis refers to free beer (as you may be lucky enough to receive at a party) and while you are free to consume the beer, you don't receive any rights of ownership. On the other hand, libre may be likened to freedom of speech, that is liberty meaning free without restrictions. The link between free software and free cultural works is important, because we derive the meaning of free works from the four essential freedoms defined by the free software movement.

The essential freedoms

Richard Stallman of the GNU free software project
Richard Stallman stresses the importance of knowing what freedom means in the context of free software. In the absence of this knowledge you will have difficulty defending freedom and freedom is easily lost. There are four essential freedoms for free software users:
  • Freedom to use, that is the freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • Help yourself which is the freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • Help your neighbour that is, the freedom to redistribute copies without restriction (freedom 2).
  • Help your community referring to the freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

If any of these freedoms is substantially missing, then it is not free software. So for example, so called freeware, which is copyright software that you can download without cost but without access to the source code is not free software.

Icon activity.jpg
Consider for example a handout used for a professional development workshop that is licensed under a free cultural works license and stored as a pdf document for download.
  • Using the four freedoms described above, would this handout meet the requirements of the freedoms specified in the free software definition?

We should recognise that free works are different from free software, however it is useful to think about these essential freedoms when talking about free works, especially when they are stored in digital formats. In the Activity above, a pdf file which is distributed under a free cultural works license would meet the requirements of Freedom 0 and Freedom 2. However it is more difficult to adapt and modify a pdf file because it is distributed in a "compiled" format which makes it difficult to edit and modify the document.


The reversed "c" is the copyleft symbol. Unlike the copyright sign, it has no legal status
Copyleft is a copyright hack - a clever solution using copyright law for a purpose the lawmakers did not envisage.

Copyleft turns copyright upside down and uses copyright law to protect and ensure the essential freedoms associated with free software and free works. A software developer, as the legal owner of the code, may choose to release a software program as free software using a Copyleft license. Copyleft is a clever "copyright" requirement that allows anyone to use, modify and adapt the program as long as they release the modifications under the same conditions they received with the original program. In other words, the share-alike provision must be adhered to as part of the copyright of the software.

With particular reference to free works, a copyleft license generally refers to the inclusion of the share-alike provision. Note that there are free licenses that do not use the share-alike provision.

See also


  1. Wikipedia article on Gratis versus libre
  2. Free Software Foundation. "The Free Software Definition." Retrieved 5 February 2007.