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Copyleft: The God That Failed

Posted on 04/09/2023 12:20:06 AM GMT

Copyleft is a failing idea of protecting your material against proprietization by relying on the same authority and laws which granted monopoly to the corporations at the first place, while also being a fallacy of it "not being a copyright", while still being a form of copyright.

The Idea

Copyleft is a method for making a work free (in the sense of freedom, not in terms of price), and requiring all modified and extended versions of that work to be free as well. Basically, your work (such as a software) being released with a "copyleft license" grants others to study, re-use, re-purpose and re-release your work as long as they also redistribute their own version of your work.

The Appeal

As a copyleft license grants a legal protection of your work against proprietization while still providing freedom of distribution, modification and contribution for anyone gave a huge appeal to FOSS community so much so that an organization named GNU is dedicated for maintaining a very popular copyleft license named GPL (GNU Public License) since 1989 and as we know, their constant push of this concept and their philosophy in general as well as the usage of their license on popular projects like Linux, certainly influenced the popularization as well as growth of FOSS community.

The Issues

While the concept of copyleft seems like a "dream come true" for many FOSS users, it has substantial issues which is causing of not only it getting less adoption compared to permissive licenses in general, but also having a nonsensical implementation while also performing worse at real life scenarios:

Restrictions on distribution

Sure, a copyleft license gives you more freedom than a proprietary license in the sense of anyone studying, modifying, releasing or even contributing on your work however it also grants less freedom than releasing your work on public domain or even with a permissive license, as it can limit someone's ability to distribute your modified work until they also release it with the same license or with a "compatible" license for the public, in order to avoid a licensing violation which can unnecessarily affect you and your work if you are not careful enough.

Copyleft is still a copyright

Apart from the restrictions in terms of redistribution, copyleft is very stupid in terms of its implementation. By the way, don't let any GNU worshippers fool you by them telling that a copyleft is "opposite" of copyright. Copyleft still relies on copyright laws for protection (more specifically as a form of IP protection) of your work against proprietary usage. In fact, right from the GNU website they tell you that:

To copyleft a program, we first state that it is copyrighted; then we add distribution terms, which are a legal instrument that gives everyone the rights to use, modify, and redistribute the program's code, or any program derived from it, but only if the distribution terms are unchanged.

You can even copyleft your patents if you so desire. Therefore, this is an abomination created by the mixing of IP laws and public domain, which means that it is infact a copyright and hence it also relies on the same highly corrupted and unfavourable system which was created to enable the corporations to have monopoly over the market. It might have been a genius idea of Richard Stallman to come up with this "exploit" of those laws for greater good 34 years ago, when GPL got released for the first time. However, after many decades later it is now obvious that his idea didn't actually fix the problem of preventing proprietization of open source works by not going against the root cause of the problem at all which is the existence of the copyright system itself, as copyleft only tries to half-heartedly solve the problem by repurposing the root cause instead.

So, "copylefting" your work doesn't help you to avoid the usage of unethical copyright laws as it is entirely dependent on it to actually function at the first place, the same hatred laws which allows a corporation to use your work for their proprietary products without your consent, while also making impossible for you to actually get any sort of justice out of this and also giving you disadvantage of not having capabilities to re-engineer, study and creating your own version of their work unless if you are prepared to violate these laws and getting lawsuits.

Failing at actually protecting you

The worst part of copyleft is that in practise, it hilariously failed at actually stopping the proprietization of works which was released to the public under the "copyleft license". Many corporations still use those works for their proprietary products always without the consent of the author. Sure, several copyleft violations got taken to the court but rarely these either get resolved or even the case fails to go anywhere due to the multiple reasons, mainly authority being ignorant or corrupt, trials can get expensive for the small organization to keep continuing it and not to mention, usually going against giant corporations which have much more lawyers and resources than you will ever have which can be a nightmare to deal with. Also, good luck trying to sue someone who is from a country where copyright laws are an afterthought as copyleft license as earlier stated, depends upon those laws for its functioning.


Hence, copyleft is not an utopian idea that will magically solve the problem of works getting proprietised, not when both of them relies on the same idea of being copyrighted. Combined with its restrictions and painfuly failing at its core idea in practise, the possibility of it ever working properly is minimal to none.