What is Free Software?

 [image of a Philosophical Gnu] (jpeg 7k) (jpeg 141k) no gifs due to patent problems

``Free software'' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of ``free speech'', not ``free beer.''

``Free software'' refers to the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to three levels of freedom:

You may have paid money to get copies of GNU software, or you may have obtained copies at no charge. But regardless of how you got your copies, you always have the freedom to copy and change the software. In the GNU project, we use ``copyleft'' to protect these freedoms legally for everyone.

See Categories of Free Software (18k characters) for a description of how ``free software,'' ``copylefted software'' and other categories of software relate to each other.

When talking about free software, it is best to avoid using terms like ``give away'' or ``for free'', because those terms imply that the issue is about price, not freedom. Some common terms such as ``piracy'' embody opinions we hope you won't endorse. See Confusing Words and Phrases that are Worth Avoiding for a discussion of these terms.


Other Texts to Read

This first group of articles directly address the philosophy of the GNU project and free software:

This second group of articles deal with related topics but are not directly about the GNU project:


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Copyright (C) 1996, 1997 Free Software Foundation, Inc., 59 Temple Place - Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111, USA

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Updated: 4 Aug 1997 tower