Can I publish a Free Art License-covered work in a set that is not?

Yes, it is possible.

Article 4 of the license stipulates that:

“Incorporating this work into a larger work that is not subject to the Free Art License shall not challenge the rights granted by this license” (Article 4).

Example 1: A FAL-covered photograph can be used as illustration for an article that is not. In this case, the caption of the photograph must mention the author and the license. The superposition of text does not modify the photograph. However, the creation of an original work combining text and the FAL-covered photograph is also possible: in this case, FAL will apply to the creation.

Example 2: A FAL-covered piece of music can be used in a movie provided that the credits mention the music, its author and the license. However, this piece cannot be mixed with sound effects or other sound elements that are not subject to the same (or equivalent) license.

Do I have to use free software for my work to be free?

What makes a work free is not the technical tool with which it was conceived or realised, nor the technical tool that may be necessary to enjoy it, but the free license to which it is attached.

However, concerning digital works (i.e. most of our data today: text files, documentaries, videos, music, etc.), the choice of data formats (and therefore, software that can be used to enjoy or work with those files) directly impacts the accessibility and the possibitlity to use the work itself.

Creating and/or sharing a FAL-coverd work in a proprietary format for which a publisher has a monopoly, and can as such prohibit or control its use, may prevent the work from freely circulating.

Free software whose source code is open and modifiable by anyone, data formats whose specifications are published and free to use, are the best to guarantee free use and dissemination of your FAL-covered work.

What about money? An artist has to be able to live from his art.

No remuneration for intellectual property rights is due to the author of a FAL-covered work.

However, it is possible for an author to contract a financial agreement with any third party wishing to use the work, provided that the terms of this agreement do not contradict those of the FAL and that the result of this work is itself covered by FAL.

The challenge is therefore to find out how to perceive an indirect income, not only in relation to the creative activity, but also in relation to the work produced.

  • If the work is immaterial, not palpable, the use of a copyleft license excludes any mode of remuneration directly related to the work produced (or at least, related to the exploitation of hitherto exclusive rights: namely reproduction and diffusion).
  • If the work is material, based on a tangible object, copyleft does not disrupt the traditional commercial usage. The sources of income are therefore a priori the same.

The value of a piece of art is not only materialised in its object, but also, if not especially, in the perception that one has of this object. It exceeds its intrinsic quality and invests its externality through derivatives, applied services or specialised interventions that generally come with the activity of artists. This is where more remuneration can be realised than through the direct relation with the art object.

One way to take liberties with the world of culture subservient to the logic of the free market is to be able to make a living independently from artistic production.

It is not the purpose of this document to be a “pecuniary guide”, but here are nevertheless some models of remuneration, from the most relevant to the most precarious: sale of works, associated services to works (such as concerts, special performances, etc.), derivatives or the forthcoming realisation of a minimum living income.

To apply FAL to a work is to authorise (inter alia) its reproduction and dissemination by any recipient of a copy.

If you are a member of a traditional professionnal society of authors or artists, it is likely that you cannot apply FAL to your work.

How to use the Free Art License?

What you need to know:

There is no copyleft without a license. For a work to be “copylefted”, it must be linked to a free license. For instance, some “Open Source” projects do not explicitely apply a free license. As a result, the “Open Source” mention in such cases is superficial and void as to its “openness” promise.

What you need to do:

There is no registration whatsoever to be made, as would normally be the case for trademarks or inventions (patents). There is no institution responsible for validating a copyleft license.

That is why it is necessary to apply the copyleft mention to indicate that the work is different from the norm and corresponds to the terms of the copyleft:

[Name of the author, title, date of the work. When applicable, names of authors of the common work and, if possible, where to find the originals].

Copyleft: This is a free work, you can copy, distribute, and modify it under the terms of the Free Art License https://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/

This mention is enough to make copyleft effective.

Can I revoke a Free Art License?

You must first ensure that your work has not been reused under FAL conditions, i.e. neither modified nor distributed. In this case, there was no contractual agreement between you and a third party.

On the other hand, if your work was reused, whether you know it or not, you can ultimately choose to free yourself from the contractual agreement that binds you to a third party, but you would be responsible for this decision and could be condemned in courts if the third-party refuses to free you from your legal obligations.

Licensing my work as Free Art: doesn’t it risk to be distorted?

By applying FAL to your work, you accept its reuse as long as one respects the terms of the license.

This is tantamount to giving up your rights to rectification and criticism of derivative works. Your moral rights are however preserved: the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works provides that the author can “object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification” of the author’s work “independently of the author’s economic rights, and even after the transfer of the said rights” (article 6bis).

Such modifications made to the author’s work must be deemed to be “prejudicial to his honor or reputation” (article 6bis) for the author’s claim to be effective.

Note however that, except for cases of negation of your authorship on the work, it might seem incoherent to invoke your moral rights to restrict the use of a work that you wish to be emancipated. Only judicial courts are ultimately competent to adjudicate on your action.

What if I do not want my works to be taken from me? What if I want to keep a control over my work?

Do not use the Free Art License.

If you do not want to allow reuse of your work, it should be left to the enjoyment of those who will have its exclusivity: commercial companies and broadcasters. Copyleft is not suitable for what you are looking for.

If you want to keep some control over your work, you can also keep an original copy free of any undertaking (transformation, distribution, etc.). But you cannot forbid someone to use a copy of your work once FAL is applied. Free Art is about openness, not lockdown and control over a work’s future in accordance to exclusive ideals.

What responsibility do I have vis-à-vis my work?

It’s up to you.

FAL is a contract, you are bound to it and cannot fail your obligations.

Like with any of your creations, you retain full responsibility. By applying FAL to a work, you do not get rid of your authorship rights. However, you are not responsible for the use that can be made of your work by others; you can also invoke your moral rights to prevent a use that you think distorts your work and its scope.

Do I need to protect my work by registration before applying the license?


Registering for authorship is independent of FAL application. It is up to you to appreciate the opportunity of such a procedure.

You may want to be able to prove your authorship of your work before applying FAL. Depending on laws and customs specific to your country, it could be as simple as using registered post to send a copy of your work to yourself without opening it. See a list of frequently asked questions about copyright by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Can I apply the Free Art License to all kinds of works?

Yes, provided that they do not belong to any third parties.

It is disadvised to apply FAL to an original work without first ensuring that there are no rights attached to it: rights owned by an author or a publisher, or related rights (such as image rights of a public performance). FAL is not meant for “art laundering”. A good way to start when using pre-existing material is to ask yourself “To whom do the rights belong?” and not “Is it free?”.

You cannot use FAL in order to protect yourself from a possible copyright claim by a third party.

In this case, you would lose the rights granted to you by the FAL and be most likely sued for infringement by the original rights holders. Invoking good faith, legal incompetence or even the impossibility of finding rights holders generally cannot absolve you of your responsibilities.

What types of works best suit the Free Art License?

This license applies to both digital and non-digital works. It was born from the observation of the world of free software and the internet, but its field of application is not limited to digital media.

Free Art license can be applied to a painting, a novel, a poem, a play, a drawing, a music, a sculpture, an installation, a film, a website, any multimedia work, a performance, a cooking recipe… in short, any creation that can claim a certain art, and could be protected as a such by copyright (graphic, sound, audiovisual, dramatic, multimedia, database).

When to use the Free Art License?

FAL does not intend to eliminate copyright or authors’ rights. On the contrary, it is a matter of taking into account the contemporary environment, and giving oneself the right to free distribution, free copy and free transformation of works.

  • Whenever you want to take advantage of this right, use FAL.
  • Whenever you create a work and you want it to evolve and be freely copied, shared and transformed, use FAL.
  • Whenever you want to be able to copy, share or transform a work: make sure that it is covered by FAL, or an equivalent license. Otherwise you may risk outlawing yourself.

What are the examples of works created under FAL or used as such?

Some works created under FAL have been referenced by their authors in the directory of the site artlibre.org, which does not however intend to federate all artists using the license.

These works are of all kinds, quality and media.

Why is copyleft relevant?

Copyleft was born out of fundamental research in computer science, where inventions were naturally made available and shared with other computer scientists so that research could go forward. This attitude is in the tradition of scientific work where the advancement of research is the primary goal, without directly leading to an application, and, in particular, to a mercantile application.

In art also, fundamental research is carried out since the dawn of time without being diverted by questions related to its direct application; artists take inspiration from each other, invent by borrowing, make discoveries from available information, etc.

One can quote:

“I was told last year that I copied Byron… Didn’t you know that he imitated Pulci?… Nothing belongs to none, everything belongs to all. One must be as ignorant as a schoolmaster to flatter oneself to say a single word that no one else has said before him. To plant cabbages is to copy somebody else.”
Alfred de Musset

“Boundless literary property is unjust, since ideas belong to all, and contrary to the progress of the Enlightenment, since it justifies the monopoly of one on knowledge which must be a common good. It cannot therefore be absolute but, on the contrary, severely limited by public interest.”
Condorcet – Report on the General Organisation of Public Instruction presented to the French National Legislative Assembly on behalf of the Committee of Public Instruction, April 20-21, 1792.

“The text is a web of quotations from the thousand homes of culture. The writer can only imitate a gesture that is always anterior, never original. It’s the language that speaks, it’s not the author. […] The author does not create anything or invent anything, in the strict sense of the word, but merely draws on the observation of nature and of men, of the materials which he collects in a definite work.”
Roland Barthes

“It is not fashionable in our day to retrace the great deeds of a man who rejected any claim to originality. It belonged to a time that felt in the wake of the previous ones, neglecting any presumption of being a primeur. The originality of a soldier, a saint, an artist would have been, in their eyes, nothing but sad superstition. Our times, on the other hand, that encourage originality are not generators of new men, but of competitors, individuals who, in order to distinguish themselves, all act in the same way.”
Erri de Luca

Why use the Free Art License?

  • To make your work available to as many people as possible,
  • to allow it to be freely distributed,
  • to allow it to evolve, to authorise its transformation by others,
  • to be able to use the resources of a work that is covered by FAL: to copy, to share or to transform it freely,
  • to participate in the constitution of a special kind of “public domain”, protected from any reappropriation, where everyone can draw the knowledge and works of other people and contribute with his own work.

The use of FAL is also a good way to take liberties with the commodity system of today’s market economy. This license provides with an interesting legal framework to prevent misappropriation: it is not possible to seize your work to bypass the creative process and make an exclusive profit from it. It is forbidden to take control of the collective work that is at work, to monopolise the resources of creation in action, for the exclusive benefit of a few.

FAL advocates for an economy specific to art, based on sharing, exchange and joyful spending. What counts in art is, also and above all, what does not count.

Is copyleft the negation, the antithesis of authors’ rights or copyright?


Copyleft is not the negation of authors’ rights (or copyright); its legitimacy relies on it: copyleft is a particular use of authors’ rights.

The primary goal of authors’ rights was to promote knowledge, science and culture, establishing a fair claim between authors, publishers, and the public. In other words, the role of authors’ rights legislation is to legally establish the social role of the author, and his work.

It turns out that, over time, lawmakers have uniquely imbalanced the relationship of interests that the original spirit and intent that these rights had instituted, by explicitly giving producers and publishers more and more power, for a longer and longer period of time, for elements that would normally fall into the public domain, without giving any compensation to the public, or guaranteeing the exercise of rights likely to be subordinated to the contractual requirements of these same publishers and producers.

We can thus consider copyleft as a legitimate claim, by the individual-author, of this primary goal. It guarantees the constitution of a common pool of free resources; free to use, share and adapt.

What is the difference between public domain and copyleft?

Disappearance of economic rights against explicit authorisation of free use

Copyleft is a system designed to preserve the free use of a work. The work is made freely available by the will of its author and not because of dissolution of economic rights, as it is the case with public domain. With copyleft, the author exercises her/his economic rights. The author can stipulate the conditions according to which the work can be copied, shared or adapted. In the context of public domain, there are no more economic rights.

Protective and communal nature of copyleft

A second, more concrete, difference is the “protective” and “communal” nature of copyleft.

Works falling into the public domain can be freely modified, and the result of this modification exploited under the terms chosen by the modifying author (terms that can be particularly protectionist).

When a work is licensed under copyleft, whatever the nature of the modification or adaptation, the result of this adaptation must also be licensed under copyleft.

The work is then conveyed and used by a community of people, through the changes they bring to the work: a solidarity of authors/users is as such created in relation to the work.

What is the difference between authors’ rights and copyright?

Independent but harmonised legislation

Copyright applies in common law countries while authors’ rights apply in civil law countries.

Although there exist some differences between the two, the adoption of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works has greatly influenced the international harmonisation of legislations.

Today, a copyrighted work in common law countries will benefit from almost the same protections in civil law countries under authors’ rights.

Two different conceptions of the author-work relationship…

Copyright and authors’ rights notably differ as to one aspect: the notion of moral rights that are inalienable, perpetual and imprescriptible.

In civil law tradition, moral rights are constitutive of the coupling of rights to the person of the author itself rather than to the work: as such, the work is deemed to be an expression of the person of the author, and the latter is therefore protected in the same way.

Copyright is a protection which is limited to the strict sphere of the work, without consideration of any moral attribute to the author in relation to his work, exception made of his authorship; it is no longer the author per se, but the rightful owner of the copyright that determines the conditions of use of a work.

…but legislation is evolving

Provisions such as related (or neighbouring) rights, which progressively appeared alongside authors’ rights, tend to compartmentalise the different rights attributed to stakeholders of a work (author, producer, performer, publisher, distributor, etc.), gradually bridging the gap, in practice, between authors’ right and strict economic rights such as prescribed by copyright.

This is particularly noticeable in works requiring many distinct skills for their realisation (movies, video games, etc.).

What is public domain?

After a certain lapse of time (in general 70 years after the death of the author, but this may vary according to the legislation and the type of work – individual or collective), a work is deemed to fall into the public domain. In other words, the author’s claim to economic rights are extinguished: anyone can freely reproduce and reuse the work in a commercial capacity, which also implies its incorporation or modification.

Nevertheless, when using a work in the public domain, it is appropriate to respect its moral rights (in particular, attribution and integrity of the work) which are perpetual contrary to economic rights.

What is allowed in the Free Art License?

Below is a summary of the FAL. It is imperative to read the latter in its entirety in order to understand the extent of your rights and responsibilities. You will be deemed to have read and understood the license fully whenever using a FAL-covered work.

For any work explicitly covered under FAL, you can:

  • make copies regardless of the number, destination and purpose (free or commercial use),
  • modify these copies, translate them, adapt them, integrate them in other works, as well as using all or parts of them,
  • share these copies, or the work you have created from these copies, for free or commercial use,
  • you do not owe any remuneration to the author of the copies, unless prior agreement between you and the author of the copies. Any agreement must be in accordance with the specifications of the FAL.

What is the Free Art License?

The Free Art License (or FAL) is a contract that applies the concept of “copyleft” to artistic creation. It authorises any third party (natural or legal person), having accepted its conditions, to copy, share and modify a work, for free or commercial use, provided that it is always possible to copy, share and modify it.

FAL was created in July 2000, following the Copyleft Attitude meetings that took place at “Accès Local” and “Public”, two places of contemporary art in Paris. It was written thanks to the contributions of the mailing list copyleft_attitude@april.org and in particular with Melanie Clément-Fontaine and David Geraud, jurists, and Isabelle Vodjdani and Antoine Moreau, artists.

The license is available at https://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en/ and is also available in French, German, Polish and Portuguese (prior versions include Italian and Spanish). Other translations are welcomed!

FAL is valid in all countries that have signed the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886) (this convention establishes an international legal framework for literary and artistic rights).


Frédéric Goudal, Antoine Moreau, Tangui Morlier, Leroy K. May, Nicolas Truth, Jérémie Zimmerman, Julien, Sandra and all the participants of the lists copyleft_attitude@april.org and kernel@artlibre.org.

They all are warmly thanked.

Romain d’Alverny, 2002-2003.

What are authors’ rights?

Although laws differ among countries, authors’ rights generally represent a conception of copyright within civil law countries.

“Authors shall enjoy, in respect of works for which they are protected under this Convention, in countries of the Union other than the country of origin, the rights which their respective laws do now or may hereafter grant to their nationals, as well as the rights specially granted by this Convention” (Article 5-1 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works).

The Berne Convention makes a distinction between moral and economic rights.

Moral rights generally refer to:

  • the right of authorship (or the right to be recognised as the author of a work),
  • the right of disclosure of the work,
  • the right to the integrity of the work,
  • the right of repentance (or right of withdrawal).

Moral rights are inalienable, perpetual and imprescriptible (no contract can nullify their scope or exercise).

Economic rights (also known as property rights) include:

  • the right of representation: representation is the communication of the work to the public by some process,
  • the right of reproduction: reproduction consists in the material fixation of the work by all the processes that make it possible to communicate it to the public in an indirect way.

They generally go out 70 years after the death of the author.

There are exceptions to protection provided by law, such as the public domain, short quotations, press reviews, parodies and caricatures, copying for the private use of the copyist, and private performances in the family circle…

What is the GNU General Public License (GPL)?

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a copyleft license dedicated to software source code. Many free software packages are distributed under the terms of the GNU GPL (GNU/Linux, PostgreSQL, MySQL, SAMBA, SPIP, DaCode, etc.).

Other licenses exist, that were designed for different uses in different settings.

What distinguishes the Free Art License from GPL?

FAL is a GPL for art as it includes all types of creations (text, images, sounds, etc.). As such, it is compatible with all types of media and means of expression. It is a truly multi-media license, for digital as well as more traditional media.

What is copyleft?

The notion of “copyleft” – like the notions of “libre”, “free”, “open source”, etc. – does not have a legal value in itself.

This term is historically attached to the GNU GPL license that allows any contracting party to copy, modify and share for free or commercial use a software that was developed under this license.

The use of the term “copyleft” is tantamount to a license specifying in a precise and exhaustive way the nature and extent of the rights assigned to you. If you cannot find the license that was applied to a work you want to use, ask the author. Skipping this step will make you, in most cases, an infringer.

A “copyleft” license is a special exercise of rights available to an author regarding his work and consisting in authorising the copy, modification, sharing and exploitation of his work by any third party agreeing the terms of the license. In general:

  • this authorisation must always be explicit, and transmitted with each copy of the work,
  • this authorisation cannot be granted on an exclusive basis,
  • any person modifying this copy authorises, in the same way, the same uses on any copy of the resulting work.

A work whose rights are assigned to you through a copyleft license will therefore still be governed by the same license, regardless of the changes that will be made to the work.

What is a license?

A license is a contract between two or more parties intended to organise the conditions for the transfer of intellectual property rights attached to the work that is the subject of the contract.

What does the Free Art License NOT allow?

  • You cannot share a FAL-covered work (or any work based on the latter) without mentioning the names of the authors, including yours if you made any modifications;
  • You must apply FAL to all your works using all or part of a FAL-covered work. Retrieving a FAL-covered work and sharing it under conditions other than those provided by the license makes you an infringer vis-à-vis the author who provided the original material to you;
  • you cannot apply FAL to a work already subject to another intellectual property right without specifically requesting authorisation in writing. On the other hand, you may include works from the public domain, personal works that are truly original or that do not contain an identifiable protected material as such;
  • likewise, you can not choose to mix works governed by two different “free” licenses;
  • when you create and share a work under FAL, you cannot agree to an exclusive agreement for the sole benefit of a third party: your work must be available to any person making the request, as it was for you.

What does the Free Art License allow?

Below is a summary of the FAL. It is imperative to read the latter in its entirety in order to understand the extent of your rights and responsibilities. You will be deemed to have read and understood the license fully whenever using a FAL-covered work.

For any work explicitly covered under FAL, you can:

  • make copies regardless of the number, destination and purpose (free or commercial use),
  • modify these copies, translate them, adapt them, integrate them in other works, as well as using all or parts of them,
  • share these copies, or the work you have created from these copies, for free or commercial use,
  • you do not owe any remuneration to the author of the copies, unless prior agreement between you and the author of the copies. Any agreement must be in accordance with the specifications of the FAL.