Reasons for Going Libre

A version of this page appears in Share This Book.


Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

Tim O’Reilly

You’ve read about what libre is. Now you want to know why you should ‘go libre’ — that is to say, why you should release some or all of your works under libre licences.

Later, we’ll talk about why libre is good for consumers as well. We’ll also go into more detail about methods of making money off libre.


By using a libre licence, you have access to the many works that have been released under libre, copyleft licences over the years. You can incorporate those works into your own creations.

  • Wikipedia uses Creative Commons images alongside libre recordings and writing to enhance their entries. Much of this material would not be legally usable by them if the web encyclopedia was not under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence.
  • Wizards of the Coast placed Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition under the Open Game License, allowing compatible games and materials to be created by third parties and the community. The surge in the number of D&D-based games encouraged more D&D players, which fed back into more sales for Wizards of the Coast.

Easy Updates

When a product is not libre, updates typically cost money or are otherwise difficult to get. Many people keep using the out-of-date version. This leads to security problems and undermines the perceived quality of the product, since flaws are not corrected in every version. When a libre product is updated, all users can legally (and usually for free) get the update.

  • Ubuntu, a Linux operating system, updates every six months. This process is not automatic, but it’s free and not difficult. Whereas most Ubuntu users have a recent version of the operating system, most Windows users are two operating systems behind – they’re still running Windows XP. As well as being a less impressive operating system, XP has more security flaws.
  • When Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 was released, a libre document with most of that game’s rules became available. This allowed interested groups to update to the new game without having to buy the new rulebooks. This ensured that those groups would be interested in the new sourcebooks that were being released, even if they didn’t buy the core rules of the game.

Community Repayment

By opening up your creative works to your fans, you invite them to improve upon them. These changes can popularise and enhance your creation without any work on your part.

  • Cory Doctorow’s fans translate his semi-libre ebooks into other languages. His collection of essays, Content, has been professionally translated into Italian and converted into audio book by a fan. Another fan wrote an alternative ending to one of Doctorow’s books, fully protected because of Doctorow’s use of semi-libre licences.
  • Third party publishers released supplements to Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons. When Wizards published Unearthed Arcana, they drew upon these same third party supplements for extra material.
  • Jonathan Coulton’s fans have created hundreds of music videos for his semi-libre songs.


If a libre project is seen as corrupted or misguided, a spin-off project can be created using the work of the original project with a different philosophy and team. This ensures that libre market leaders remain open and accountable to the community, and can’t use their copyright as leverage.

  • OpenOffice is a libre office suite owned by Oracle. When Oracle’s actions raised suspicion in the libre community, the source code from OpenOffice was used as the basis for a new suite, LibreOffice. The LibreOffice project is managed by a not-for-profit foundation, instead of a company.

Essential Freedoms

The Free Software Foundation claims that there are four basic freedoms that any user of software deserves to have protected. Releasing your software under a libre licence preserves these four freedoms for your users. Presumably, these freedoms can be extrapolated to apply to songs, sonnets and TV shows as well.


Making your work libre allows others to use it however they need. This is an act of great generosity that has enabled some amazing projects.

  • The Russian government used anti-piracy laws as an excuse to examine and confiscate the computers used by dissidents. They claim to be checking that the machines use legitimate versions of Microsoft software, and Microsoft has given tacit support to the government. Were the computers running libre software, there would be no grounds for such intrusions.


By making your creations libre, you send a clear message to your fans: share and celebrate this. You invite them to email it to their friends, to print it out, to play it on their podcasts. This turns your supporters into promoters instead of pirates; it’s no longer a crime to allow others to experience your work.


When you grow old or die, when you lose interest in your product, when you become distracted with other things, your work normally becomes lost or irrelevant. It takes great effort for others to track you and negotiate terms under which they can use your work. But if you use a libre licence, your work can live on – revised and recharged, generation after generation.

  • Eric Provost left his game Redbox Hack behind with permission for others to share it and build on it. A number of new character professions were created for that game, some of which he discovered and was excited by. An entire new game, Old School Hack, was built from the ashes of Redbox Hack.

Alright, I’m sold! I want to go libre.

But how do I do that?

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