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<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<html>
<version>6</version>
<head>
<title>Free Software</title>
</head>
<body class="toplevel freesoftware">
<h1>What is Free Software</h1>
<div id="introduction">
<p>
The principles of Free Software are simple but it is important
to not get confused by the underlying complexity caused by its
long history. Learn about the <a href="#freedoms">four
freedoms</a> and their meaning, the fundamentals about <a
href="#licences">Free Software licences</a>, the <a
href="#advantages">advantages</a> that Free Software provides,
and the most common <a href="#synonyms">synonyms</a>.
</p>
<p>
Looking beyond the circle of software itself, you can read more about
the interplay of Free Software with <a href="#more">other fields</a>
like education, procurement and democracy.
</p>
</div>
<h2 id="freedoms">The Four Freedoms</h2>
<p>
Free Software refers to freedom, not price. It guarantees its users the
essential four freedoms. The absence of at least one of these freedoms
means an application is proprietary, so non‐Free Software.
</p>
<!-- Pie chart and text adopted from p.4 of the PMPC brochure -->
<div class="fsgrid">
<div class="pie">
<div class="pie-use"><p>Use</p></div>
<div class="pie-study"><p>Study</p></div>
<div class="pie-share"><p>Share</p></div>
<div class="pie-improve"><p>Improve</p></div>
</div>
</div>
<div class="icon-grid icons-sm">
<ul>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/pie-topleft.png" alt=""/>
<div>
<h3>Use</h3>
<p>
Free Software can be used for any purpose and is free of
restrictions such as licence expiry or geographic limitations.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/pie-topright.png" alt=""/>
<div>
<h3>Study</h3>
<p>
Free Software and its code can be studied by anyone, without
non‐disclosure agreements or similar restrictions.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/pie-bottomleft.png" alt=""/>
<div>
<h3>Share</h3>
<p>
Free Software can be shared and copied at virtually no cost.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/pie-bottomright.png" alt=""/>
<div>
<h3>Improve</h3>
<p>
Free Software can be modified by anyone, and these improvements
can be shared publicly.
</p>
</div>
</li>
</ul>
</div>
<h2 id="licences">Licences</h2>
<p>
The four freedoms are given by a software licence. Software licences
define the conditions under which a programme can be used and reused. For
it to be Free Software, the licence text must contain at least the four
freedoms. The <a
href="https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html">Free Software
Foundation</a> and the <a
href="https://opensource.org/licenses/category">Open Source Initiative</a>
maintain lists of reviewed and approved licences. An application can
usually not be considered Free Software if its licence does not appear in
one of these lists.
</p>
<p>
There are a multitude of licences with different focuses, and a software
product or parts of it can also be licensed under more than one licence.
The actual selection is a strategic question but you are advised to pick
one of the most widely used licences. For more insights on legal and
licensing questions, you can <a class="learn-more"
href="/freesoftware/legal/faq.html">Read&#160;more...</a>
</p>
<h2 id="advantages">Advantages</h2>
<!-- adopted from PMPC brochure p.16+17 -->
<p>
Free Software is about freedom. In practice, this provides numerous
advantages for users, organisations, businesses, and governments.
</p>
<div class="icon-grid">
<ul>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/autonomy.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Autonomy</h3>
<p>
Free Software helps to develop and maintain tailored software that
suits your needs, not just the vendor's business model.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/collaboration.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Collaboration</h3>
<p>
Free Software can be shared and used in a non-exclusive way by
everyone – serving the public good.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/share-copy.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Share &amp; Copy</h3>
<p>
A Free Software licence allows a limitless number of installations
to be run, without paying extra.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/no-lock-in.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>No Lock-in</h3>
<p>
Free Software licences reinforce independence from vendors and
provide more choice in service providers.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/reuse.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Reuse Code</h3>
<p>
Free Software provides the freedom to reuse the code for other
projects.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/innovation.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Innovation</h3>
<p>
A Free Software licence encourages innovation for your software.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/competition.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Competition</h3>
<p>
Free Software resists monopolisation and enhances competition.
</p>
</div>
</li>
<li>
<img src="/graphics/icons/security.png" alt="" />
<div>
<h3>Security</h3>
<p>
Free Software allows for independent security checks that help
close security holes faster.
</p>
</div>
</li>
</ul>
</div>
<h2 id="synonyms">Synonyms</h2>
<p>
Over the course of time, people came up with additional labels for Free
Software. Often the motivation for these terms is to highlight different
aspects and to avoid confusion.
</p>
<p>
Free Software was first defined with the four freedoms mentioned above by
the <a href="/freesoftware/gnuproject.html">GNU project</a> in 1986. In
1998, "Open Source" was set up as a marketing campaign for Free
Software but with the same freedoms in mind. Other widely known labels for
Free Software are "Libre Software", initiated to avoid the ambiguity of
the English word "free", and "FOSS" or "FLOSS" as abbreviations for "Free
(Libre) Open Source Software".
</p>
<p>
The level of freedom particular software offers is always determined by
the licence, not the label. In other words, don’t get confused by
different terms for the same features. If you are interested in the
historical background and why we prefer the original term, you can <a
class="learn-more"
href="/freesoftware/comparison.html">Read&#160;more...</a>
</p>
<p>
There are also terms that are commonly misused as synonyms to describe Free Software. “Public Domain” is one of such terms, and it is important to maintain a distinction between Free Software and public domain. Put in simple terms, the public domain consists of all creative work (including software) to which no copyright applies. The rights to these works may have expired, been expressly waived, or may be inapplicable. While these are the very general principles behind the public domain, the decisive factor of what constitutes public domain will always be determined by the legal principles in the country in which a work is to be used.
</p>
<p>
While software in the public domain certainly can overlap with the aims of Free Software, as a rule, Free Software is not synonymous with public domain. Indeed, most of Free Software is bound by the rules of copyright. Especially in the European Union, the existing copyright and patent systems make it difficult to identify a work under the public domain accurately. To avoid ambiguities in how you intend to share a piece of work, it therefore is preferable to use a Free Software licence rather than placing the work in the public domain, as a Free Software licence is able to provide clear and comprehensible legal information on the rights and obligations involved in using that software.
</p>
<h2 id="more">Further Insights</h2>
<p>
The numerous advantages of Free Software are a benefit in themselves, but also contribute positively to other technical and non-technical fields. Since the FSFE's foundation in 2001, we have been exploring different areas and how Free Software can make a difference.
</p>
<ul>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/democracy.html">Democracy</a></strong>:
technology greatly influences today's society. That is why control over
technology has to be in the hands of everybody, not just a small group.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/standards/">Open Standards</a></strong>: Open
Standards allow people to share all kinds of data freely and with
perfect fidelity. They resist lock-in and other artificial barriers to
interoperability, and promote choice between vendors and between technology
solutions.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/education/">Education</a></strong>: Free
Software is pedagogically superior; its basic spirit of freedom
and cooperation is the proper spirit of education in a democratic
environment.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/procurement/">Public
Procurement</a></strong>: Free Software is a perfect fit for the public
sector. It is a public resource that government organisations can use,
study, improve, and share with each other. For citizens, this means
transparency, cost efficiency, and the freedom to interact with their
government in the way that suits them best.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/developmentcooperation/">International
development cooperation</a></strong> is concerned with the sustainable
improvement of global economic, social, ecological and political
conditions. Free Software is becoming an indispensable fundamental
technology that guarantees legally compliant international cooperation
and reuse - a technology that enables global scaling with simultaneous
local adaptability.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/freesoftware/artificial-intelligence.html">Artificial
Intelligence</a></strong> (AI) has made enormous developments in the
last few years and it will not slow down – rather the opposite. While AI
applications benefit the lives of many citizens, they may also undermine
our ability to control technology and put fundamental freedoms at risk.
We explore how releasing AI applications under Free Software licences
paves the way for more accessibility, transparency, and fairness.
</li>
<li>
<strong><a href="/activities/swpat/swpat.html">Ending Software
Patents</a></strong> is a measure in which we can achieve a world where
software users are able to participate in the development and
distribution of software. Software patents add legal and financial risks
to software development and distribution by giving patent holders
legal power to prohibit software developers from using patented ideas.
The result of this is that software patents are ultimately harmful to
innovation, the economy, and to society.
</li>
</ul>
</body>
</html>