Copyleft, copyfarleft, copyfair
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The goal of copyfair, copyleft and copyfarleft is, in different forms and degrees, to prevent the enclosure of intellectual property in the form of copyright and to allow more rights (that might be commercial or non-commercial) to users who have access to creative products of various kinds.

Description of the tool

Copyleft: copyleft is an umbrella term that includes a wide range of practices. Copyleft, unlike copyright, makes a clear distinction between commercial and non-commercial use of creative work. Licensors can decide whether they want to allow users to use their work for non-commercial use, or commercial and non-commercial uses. The most notable example of copyleft licence is the Creative Commons Licence (see tool 5). Copyfair and copyfarleft: in the words of the theoriser of the concept of copyfarleft, Dmytri Kleiner, “A copyfarleft license should make it possible for producers to share freely and to retain the value of their labour product, in other words it must be possible for workers to make money by applying their own labour to mutual property, but impossible for owners of private property to make money using wage labour.” (Kleiner, 2007). Copyfair can be seen as an evolution of copyfarleft; as explained by Michael Bauwens, the concept of copyfair is based reciprocity requirements in market activities; in his words, its aim is “to create 'ethical' entrepreneurial coalitions, consisting in preference in 'generative' entities such as cooperatives, solidarity economy entities, social entrepreneurship or any not-for-profit mission-oriented or purpose driven entity, which constitutes itself around a knowledge commons (mutualization of productive knowledge), and contribute to this commons to which they are all co-dependent” (P2PF Wiki, 2020a). This is best represented by the CopyFair Licence and the Peer Production Licence.

Steps of application

Copyright protects rights to commercialise work by licensing reproduction, distribution or translation. Its purpose is to protect the author’s economic rights by ensuring a financial reward for licensors, and is based on a contract between creator and distributor. It also defines moral rights, as it attributes the intellectual property of the work to the licensor. The work cannot be adapted or remixed, as doing so might damage the reputation of the original. The copyright licence can be limiting for creators who want to allow users to share their work, engage with it in creative ways as a collective. Furthermore, creators might want their knowledge or creativity to contribute to a commons, thus enabling a community to benefit from their work. In order to make a well-informed decision to decide which kind of licence they want to use, they can follow these steps. • Create These alternative licences apply to all kinds of creative works, just like copyright. Their roots, however, can be traced in software design. • Authorship All these licences allow for the recognition of authorship; however, some creators have found alternative approaches to the concept of authorship. In the Italian contexts, the most famous anonymous collective of creators is Wu Ming, a “band” of Italian writers. They are vocal critics of the concept of copyright and their choice directly addresses the idea of authorship as prestige and celebration of individual accomplishments. • Reflect on your economic and moral rights In order to make an informed decision about the kind of licence you want to use, it is necessary to reflect on the kind of economic and moral rights you want to exercise in connection to your creative work. Will your work be completely free to access, or will private companies have to pay? Is your goal to protect the reputation of your original work, and thus limit adaptations? • What can people do with my work? The main distinctions that need to be made are the following: - Non-commercial use, or commercial and non-commercial use; - Adaptation, remix and creative use or reproduction of the work in its original form. These options are made possible by different kinds of licences (see tool 5, Creative Commons). • What are the responsibilities of the people who use my work? You should consider whether users can share your work freely, or if they have to follow the same conditions indicated in the license used for the work. It is also necessary to consider whether you would like your work to become an integral part of a generative system of knowledge, which is implied in copyfair. This is designed to prevent extractive practices of private companies that might generate wealth from knowledge that was originally shared in a generative system of knowledge. • Who can copy, adapt and remix my work? It is then necessary to decide who is allowed to make commercial and non-commercial uses of your work. - In the case of copyleft, or a Creative Commons licence, there is no distinction between individual and company uses. - In the case of copyfair and copyfarleft, the work of licensors should be circulated within a collective united by ethical principles that aims to contribute to a knowledge commons. This is exemplified by the Peer Production License, “in which only other commoners, cooperatives and nonprofits can share and re-use the material, but not commercial entities intent on making profit through the commons without explicit reciprocity” (P2PF Wiki, 2020). Some licences might make further distinctions between users: commoners might get free access to a resource, but a private company might have to pay for access instead. • What kind of benefits can people get from my work? As stated above, you have to think whether people can make profit from sharing your work. In the context of copyfair, the Peer Production Licence states that “only allows commercial exploitation by collectives in which the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the value creators, and where any surplus is distributed equally among them (and not only into the hands of owners, shareholders or absentee speculators)” (P2PF Wiki 2020b). This kind of restriction is not usually made in copyleft licences.


The philosophical background of the practices of copyfair, copyleft and copyfarleft is multifaceted and rich with different ideas and interpretations. At the heart of their philosophy there is the idea that users should have the freedom to share creative products and use them creatively in their own practice. Indeed, the creator of the first copyleft licence, Richard Stallman, was motivated by finding alternative solutions to software copyright licences that were too strictly binding. This licence also presented the principle of reciprocity, an important aspect of copyleft: “To make sure that everyone has such rights, we have to forbid you to deprive anyone else of these rights. For example, if you distribute copies of Emacs, you must give the recipients all the rights that you have. You must make sure that they, too, receive or can get the source code. And you must tell them their rights. (Emacs General Public License, 1988).” These ideas can be applied not only to software, but to creative products in general. Wu Ming, a collective of anonymous Italian writers, use the concept of copyleft to envisage a whole different business model for the creative industries that is not based on copyright, but rather on the remuneration of other activities. Here they use the publishing industry as an example: “The most logical progression should be: the work circulates for free, its appreciation translates into word of mouth, the author's reputation and profile benefit as a result, and therefore their influence in the cultural industry (and not just there) grows” (Wu Ming, 2005); an author, according to Wu Ming, would then be able to earn a living by teaching their craft, being a consultant or being invited to professional events. Some more radical critiques of copyright reject the idea of intellectual property as a whole; for example, Anna Nimus argues: “If property is theft, as Proudhon famously argued, then intellectual property is fraud. (…) Intellectual property is a meaningless concept - ideas don’t behave like land and cannot be possessed or alienated. (…) Ideas are not original, they are built upon layers of knowledge accumulated throughout history. Out of these common layers, artists create works that have their unmistakable specificities and innovations. All creative works reassemble ideas, words and images from history and their contemporary context” (2006). The idea of an accumulation of knowledge that can be shared by a community is at the core of copyfarleft and copyfair: by contributing to a knowledge commons, creative works are not merely being exploited for commercial purpose, in particular for the gain of companies that use wage work, and promote innovation in nonprofit organisations and communities of users.

Context of origin

Visual representation



EMACS. 1988. Emacs General Public License. Available at,citizen%20would%20want%20to%20do. Kleiner, D. 2007.Copyfarleft and Copyjustright. Mute. 18/07/2007. Available at Nimus, A. 2006. Copyright, Copyleft and the Creative Anti-Commons. P2PF Wiki. 2020a. Copyfair. P2PF Wiki. 2020b. Peer Production License. Wu Ming, 2005. “Unpublished notes on copyright and copyleft”, 2005.