Copyleft Licences and AI

Copyright and Copyleft are two terms related to protecting and promoting creative works. Copyright grants owners the exclusive right to copy and use their works. On the other hand, Copyleft encourages the use and modification of works by others. Under Copyleft, a work can be used and modified, with the resulting derivative works made available for others to use and modify freely; these Copyleft licenses are so-called “viral” licenses because they spread to any derivatives of the original work.

Copyleft originated in software development, thanks to Richard Stallman’s dissatisfaction with a company that took software he made available to them and then prevented him from continuing to develop their updated version. Stallman developed the first copyleft license, the Emacs General Public License in 1985, which later evolved into the GNU General Public License (GPL). Stallman went on to launch the GNU project and founded the Free Software Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting free software and computer user freedom.

Copyleft is closely related to Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) principles. The core principle of Copyleft is that anyone should be able to benefit from a work, but further developments should benefit everyone else, too.

The concept of Copyleft seems straightforward, but sometimes it isn’t straightforward. For example, defining when a work is a derivative of another work can be challenging. This challenge is further complicated when considering AI and the recent advances in Generative AI.




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