Free-content describes any kind of functional work, art, or other creative content -- for example, software, articles, photographs, drawings, audio and video -- which is licensed in a way that allows people the freedom to use the content for any purpose, to copy it, to modify it, or to redistribute it. It is important to the definition of free content that it may be modified, added to, or used within another work, and the resulting work may then be redistributed. If content is available to be used but may not be changed, it is not wholly free content.
Free content usually must be explicitly made so by licensing statements such as the one linked at the bottom of this page. Wikipedia itself is one example of free content.
Free-content licenses can be copyleft, which means modifications of the work can themselves be distributed only under the original free license. Licenses can also be non-copyleft, which means the work can be modified and then distributed under a different license, even one that is less free.
A public domain work does not have a current license (e.g. a work is in the public domain because its original copyright has expired), but can still be described as free-content.
Examples of free-content licenses
The Design Science License (DSL) and GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) are copyleft licenses for free content. Wikipedia is available under the GFDL. The FreeBSD Documentation License is an example of a non-copyleft license.
Other examples of free-content licenses are some of those published by Creative Commons when commercial use and derivative works are not restricted. Note that not all Creative Commons licenses are free-content as defined here.
Libre and gratis
Besides freedom of content, there is also another important meaning of the word free: free of charge. The two meanings of the term free are often illustrated with the phrases free as in beer, which can be free of charge but cannot meaningfully be called free-content, and free as in speech -- because freedom of speech usually refers to freedom of content, not freedom from charge.
Many languages other than English use two different words for these distinct concepts. In English, it is sometimes useful to use the less common but more precise words libre and gratis. Free-content works are always libre but not necessarily gratis.
- Free software is a detailed article about the codification of this idea in one field of creative work.
- Open content
- Public domain