Free content

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Logo Free Cultural Works

Free content , also known as open content , refers to content whose free use and distribution is permitted under copyright law. This can apply after legal protection periods have expired , so that originally protected works are considered to be in the public domain . Alternatively, content is considered free if the author or the owner of the full rights of use has placed a work under a free license .

The legal structures of free content thus complement the legal protection of intellectual property . Free content is also protected by copyright if it is subject to a free license. The respective license regulates the conditions that must be observed when using it.

The idea of ​​creating free content arose analogously to free software.

The terms “free content” and “open content”

The term open content was coined by the open content initiative started by David A. Wiley , who introduced an open content license in 1998 and an open publication license in 1999 .

The terms “free content” and “open content” are now often equated. There are different “degrees of freedom”, ranging from the right to attribution and copyleft to permission to change and/or commercial use to the waiver of any terms of use.

Others, such as the definition of free cultural works and the open definition , define “free cultural works” and “open knowledge” respectively as content that can be modified and used commercially by anyone.

Use of Free Content

Free content is used in the following areas:

Free Content Providers

One of the currently largest archives of free content is Wikipedia with its sister projects. Other well-known representatives of Open Content are the Internet Archive , Open Directory Project , LibriVox , , OpenStreetMap and freedb .

Flickr offers extensive image material under free Creative Commons licenses as well as a collection of historical, copyright-free images from the US Library of Congress .

The Federal Agency for Civic Education publishes some of its publications under a free license. The German Aerospace Center and the European Southern Observatory also make their images and films freely available under license.

"OpenBooks" are books whose texts can be used by anyone free of charge. These can be works whose copyright has expired, but also e.g. B. to current books, especially from the IT sector, which are offered free of charge.

Another area of ​​free content is online courses ( Open Educational Resources ) and various manuals and documentation created for free software.

In addition, considerable success has been achieved with the Open Access initiative in the scientific sector. There are now over 1168 scientific open content journals. However, contrary to the principles stated in the Berlin Declaration , this content is often only freely accessible, but may not be redistributed or modified.

Public Domain Content

Older works for which the copyright protection period has expired, i.e. which are now in the public domain, are made available through digitization in various projects. Project Gutenberg , for example, makes such content available in electronic form.

A lot of public domain material exists from US government agencies because their employees' works are not copyrighted .

In practice, the principle of public domain of older works is often restricted because of property rights in the only physical work (e.g. the original of a picture in a museum), since access to the original necessary for a copy can be denied.


web links

Commons : free content  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Legal and conceptual background

Resources, depots and collections

Free content (German language pages)

English Language Resources


  1. - Open Content . January 7, 2009. Archived from the original on January 21, 2012. Swiss Education Server: Open Content – ​​copyright as a limit and perspective
  2. Susanne Schmidt: Peace, joy and free pancake recipes,, August 7, 2007.
  3. Free content ( Memento from September 8, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) from January 7, 2009.
  4. Definition according to (German translation)
  5. Definition according to (German translation)
  6. Flickr: Creative Commons. Retrieved September 22, 2020 .
  7. The Library of Congress: Billboard: "Visit Boot Hill, Dodge City, 130 miles," near Goddard, Kansas (LOC). January 1, 1993, retrieved September 22, 2020 .
  8., Creative Commons: The "Everyman License" and the contents of DLR, March 1, 2012, retrieved on March 4, 2012.
  9. Copyright Notice. Retrieved September 22, 2020 (English).