Copyright explained

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:36 pm by Pirate Praveen

You might have come across some of your friends saying Windows is copyrighted and Linux is not (with Linux they mean GNU/Linux). Or another version is Windows is licensed and Linux is not.

Both Windows and and GNU/Linux is copyrighted and licensed software? Then what is the difference?

Before copyright came everything was in public domain. Anyone could copy and distribute any expression – be it writing, drawing, music … So why copyright was introduced?

When printing press was invented information in the printed form cost money to produce and move. So to get this money back copyright was introduced.

With Berne convention most world countries including India agreed to give copyright to expression of any ideas including software. These rights restricts anyone to use, copy or share the work. If anyone wants to do any of the things restricted by copyright law (s)he needs permission from the copyright owner.

Windows and GNU/Linux are copyrighted software. So how are we able to use them if everyone is restricted by copyright law?

The copyright holder gives a permission for others in the form of copyright licenses. If both Windows and GNU/Linux are licensed softwares, what is the difference?

The difference is in what exactly the license permits anyone to do. While Windows tries to restrict even more than what copyright law already permits with its End User License Agreement (EULA), GNU/Linux (the softwares components that comes in a typical distribution like Debian or Fedora has different licenses) components have a Free Software license that ensures the user has the right to use, study, modify and distribute the software.


  1. when was the printing press invented | Digg hot tags said,

    December 21, 2008 at 1:47 am

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    December 21, 2008 at 7:05 am

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  3. Kanti said,

    December 21, 2008 at 10:54 am

    Hi Praveen,

    The writeup is nice.Let me add something from my side as well.

    When the copyright holder grants you permission to do something with his work it falls under the category of a contract.Contract per se has its own set of regulations.
    When you sign/agree on an EULA for a software you are entering into a contract with the copyright holder.
    Most software under GNU/Linux systems is under the GPL or other form of Free Software licenses.The copyright holder here grants you the license to modify and redistribute the software and as long as you are in that contract (using the software and abiding by the terms).
    Hope this helps clear a few more points.

  4. Praveen A said,

    December 21, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Kanti, Thanks for the writeup, but you got it wrong here. Copyright license is a unilateral permission from the copyright holder. But proprietary companies want more than what copyright gives and they try to enter into contract restricting you even more than what copyright alone does. All Free Software licenses are pure copyright licenses, especially GPL. You don’t even have to agree to GPL to use it. But when you distribute GPLed code all you have (and need) is GPL, so at that point only you need to worry about the conditions of GPL. See http://lwn.net/Articles/61292/ for more discussions.

  5. Kanti said,

    December 21, 2008 at 11:32 am

    I always thought that the GPL read like “you made the promise to distribute derivative work under the same conditions”.
    The following line does point me to the correct interpretation.
    “Because the GPL does not require any promises in return from licensees, it does not need contract enforcement in order to work.”

    Thanks for pointing this out.

  6. Pages tagged "gnu" said,

    December 21, 2008 at 6:51 pm

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  7. Suhasini said,

    June 1, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Copyright is been explained in better way in the above article.Its also a good practice to cite the source whenever you use the information of others.

    Even if the content is rewritten it’s better to cite the source.I found this site useful http://www.copyrightsearch.org to ensure that even by mistake we are not using other’s content, especially in the field of arts,music,videos …

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