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What is Copyleft?

What is Copyleft?

In the age of free and accessible information online, most people are familiar with the concept of Copyright. But what is copyleft?

17th September 2019
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In our growing data age the importance of protecting intellectual property has never been higher. However, what about the freedom of users to use creative works? This is where copyleft comes in.

Copyright versus Copyleft

vTo properly understand copyleft, we should first become familiar with copyright. Copyright is not a legally separate framework to copyleft. Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It provides the author of a creative work the exclusive right to reproduce, copy or pursue the work for a period of time. The general idea behind copyright is to protect and promote authors to create original works. If you wish to protect your intellectual property you should consult a lawyer.

In contrast, copyleft utilises copyright law to foster and encourage the equal right to copy, share and modify creative works. Despite what the name implies, copyleft isn’t about abolishing copyright. Instead copyleft is a subset of copyright that involves restoring freedom to users. It is rooted in the idea that users should have the right to reproduce, copy or pursue original works however they want.

Copyleft licenses

A copyleft license differs from a permissive license or transfer which grants users the freedom to do anything they wish with the work. A copyleft license still imposes demands on the user. Most notably, these licenses require users to distribute derived work under a license that offers the same rights as the original work. Although the implication is that these licenses would be free, they may have a cost. However, once you pay for it you’re free to do anything you want with it. As long as you maintain the same freedoms in the derived work.


A photographer releases a copyleft photo for anyone to use. All users are subsequently allowed to download, modify and distribute the photo however they want. However, they would also have to permit anyone else to download, modify or distribute that work. This is also known as a share-alike cause.


Ultimately, a copy left license has two main characteristics.

  • Freedom of users to download, modify and distribute derivative work.
  • Share-alike clauses which ensure derivative works have the same freedoms as the original work.

Copyleft can be a more difficult model to make money with, however if you truly believe in freedom of users this is the way to go. If you’re unsure about the options available to manage your intellectual property contact a copyright lawyer.

Don’t know where to start?
Contact a Lawpath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

Gopi Giri

Gopi is currently a graduate in the legal documents team at Lawpath. Gopi is interested in cyber law and future innovations in the legal industry.