The EcoPort Foundation
What is the relationship between 'copyright' and 'copyleft' in EcoPort?
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Questions, comments and suggestions: t.putter@ecoport.org

Copyright creates an opportunity for the author or creator of original intellectual property to claim and defend ownership to published information within a framework of national and international laws. This system assumes ownership as a default and an associated and implied right of the original act of creation that not only allows the owner to (1) defend these rights but also; (2), to specify conditions of use under which the owner would permit others to use the original material. Thus, there are two interwoven components of any copyright claim that deal with rights establishment and conditions of use, respectively.

Copyright statements have to comply with certain specifications, which usually consist of using (but not only), the universally-recognised symbol: © usually associated with a date; or statements such as 'All Rights Reserved' to establish the ownership claim aspect of the rights claim as the initial portion of a larger copyright statement. Then follows a description of conditions, usually stated in strong terms that aim to tell readers what they are not allowed to do, but which may also describe permissions and conditions of 'ownership release' conceded by the owner.

Effectively, and in very simplistic terms, a copyright claim amounts to saying '...this is mine and this is what you cannot and/or can do with my property...'

Here is an example of a restrictive copyright statement (one that places most of its emphasis and authority on telling people what they are not allowed to do, as it was FAO's traditional 'default' copyright statement of choice:

"All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner."

Copyleft has to do with this second, conditionality component of the traditional copyright statement. Specifically, copyleft predicatively depends on establishing copyrights first, because only after ownership rights have been established, can the owner, and only the owner, make concessions about 'permissible' use. Obviously, one has to own something before one can give it away.

Unlike the established symbols and their associated, supporting legal systems that make the © of copyright, the ® of Registered Trade Mark and the ™ of Claimed Trade Mark law, there is no formal copyleft symbol or system, simply because it is an optional extension of the existing © system.

It is increasingly common for copyright owners to add more explicitly liberal conditions to their copyright claim statements whereby they give a priori permission, and specify, how their intellectual property might be used. Thus, there is a welcome and growing tendency to allow information to be used freely for educational and not-for-profit use. This kind of permission is, in fact, a kind of copyleft condition although usually not labeled as such. This approach is well illustrated by the following copyright statement currently used by FAO:

"All rights reserved. Reproduction and dissemination of material in this information product for educational or other non-commercial purposes are authorized without any prior written permission from the copyright holders provided the sources is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of material in this information product for resale or other commercial purposes is prohibited without written permission of the copyright holders."

The above FAO copyright statement and its 'copyleft-like' concessions, is very similar to what the Copyleft movement and EcoPort are adopting as its copyleft regime for the management of intellectual property. In fact, 'true' copyleft simply goes a bit further than the 'liberal' FAO statement above by adding an additional condition that states that any person who uses the information, must also distribute the information, and any improvements and variations thereof, under the same copyleft conditions.

The purpose of this last aspect of 'true' copyleft, is to ensure that anybody who gets 90% of an idea from a 'generous' original owner of intellectual property, cannot simply add say 10% novelty, claim that the new product is novel, and place it under stringent copyright protection for commercial gain; especially if the financial revenues or profits are not shared with the original inventor who made the first 90% of 'value' possible in the first place (although the concept of 'derived copyright' exists as part of current copyright regimes, it is a vastly under-used facility compared to the extent that information is simply re-arranged and paraphrased in many publications).

These examples hopefully make clear that it is neither correct nor logical to talk of copyright *or* copyleft, because the latter is a nested version of the former.