What is Leftcopy?

Leftcopy is a Social Domain license. It grants almost public-domain-like rights for scientific, artistic, literary and technical work including: books, plays, movies, music, articles, photographs, blogs, websites and software.

Personal use, small scale commercial use, voluntary/non-profit use and governmental/civic use are all encouraged, but large scale economic exploitation of workers is discouraged.

Apply the Transitional License to disallow big corporations, or the Revolutionary License to disallow capitalism completely!

How to apply work to Leftcopy

The only requirement is all redistributions and derivative works must retain the license in full, or a link to the URL: https://leftcopy.org.


Leftcopy is a Social Domain license. This means The People can do what they like with leftcopied works, as long as the license text, or a link to https://leftcopy.org is included. Once work is applied to Leftcopy, anyone working in the Social Domain may use it, even years afterwards. It can’t be revoked.

Can Cannot Must
Use commercially Hold liable Include license or link to leftcopy.org
Modify and adapt    
Use privately    
Use a patent1    
Add a warranty2    

Notes for software producers:

  1. Adding a patent grant can be useful for some software. 

  2. Adding a warranty is useful for small scale commercial use where additional services or products can be bundled separately. 

  3. SPDX is backed by a consortium of large corporations trying to monopolize license adoption through standardization4 

  4. The ‘applicable law / competent court’ are left open, so any alleged breach by a major corporation operating throughout the world could be pursued by The People in any jurisdiction. 

Questions and Answers

  • Prior to version 2, Leftcopy featured a copyright © notice condition, because it seemed like a nice way to provide attribution, but this was removed in versions 2 and later. This was for two main reasons:


    Rights to sue for unauthorized use of work and claiming copyright are unlikely to be outside the scope of the Berne Convention . Strong copyright protection is now almost universal by default. Leftcopy states, ‘The People’ are the single owner of the copyright. The creation of a Social Domain is intended to make enforcement of the license conditions against capitalist corporations easier, and avoid lawsuits among The People.


    Everyone is vulnerable to being ripped off from time to time, but capitalist corporations do it automatically by being the sole owners of worker’s copyright under ‘works made for hire’ rules that give them ownership of the copyright of employees or contractors.

    The value of the work produced by The People every day is what motivates Leftcopy. We want The People to have control over who can make changes and distribute the products of our labor. This is achieved using standardized, Leftcopy license texts capable of creating a single, global license that follows work in the Social Domain around. Everyone who uses Leftcopy should get a copy of license text or a link to the website explaining how Leftcopy works.

    What if I want to add an attribution?!

    Leftcopy does not ban the use of copyright notices, or other forms of attribution. You can request attribution in accordance with your community or other ethical or professional norms and standards, such as academic or scientific norms.

    So attribution maybe placed elsewhere, like in document headers and footers, or in a separate AUTHORS, CONTRIBUTORS or CREDITS section. Software producers could use a ‘Developer Certificate of Origin’ for example to create a non-binding paper trail outside of Leftcopy. Specific attribution is not part of the Leftcopy scheme so the license text can be standardized for everyone without modification. This prevents over-duplication in derivative works with each contributor adding specific copyright notices all the way down the line.

    If producers were forced to fill in their own name in a copyright notice in the license text and maybe bump the year here and there every time they contributed, it wouldn’t be such a simple mechanism for work to be committed to the Social Domain. The Social Domain is the common resource pool with just one restriction on companies that do not comply with the format and size criteria in the applicable license. Leftcopy gives The People rights to build on and change work for example, but it doesn’t discriminate between specific owners copyrights in their contributions. Rather, we all end up having copyright in all the work we apply to Leftcopy, this is the Social Domain.

    The designation for leftcopied work is (_c) or the symbol. The SVG file is available for download here

    So, even though Leftcopy won’t do you any favours if you are looking to protect your work from small scale explotation, it may still be ‘legally significant’ when pleading for judgement against a large, capitalist corporation. For example, to demand it ceasing using work. A court finding in favour of The People could lead to an award to cover legal costs and expenses.

    Leftcopy licenses are based on a license drafted by lawyers, but of course we recommend you speak to your own lawyer before considering taking any formal legal action.

    Note: Significant parts in this section have been adapted from ‘The MIT License, Line by Line’ by Kyle E. Mitchell, (2016) under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 license.

  • An offshore shell company uses a popular, music recording during the closing credits of a profitable movie under the Leftcopy Revolutionary License.

    All of the shell company’s profit-making movie production subsidiaries are small. The largest has only forty five employees, another twenty, another only six. It also employs lots of freelancers and so on, and so forth. Any wage labor exploitation in the shell company and in the small production subsidiaries are small scale.

    Leftcopy is not a non-commercial (NC) licensing regime, it’s about disallowing large scale economic exploitation of wage labour. So, although Leftcopy is intended to prevent corporations like Disney, Amazon or Netflix getting their hands on work, it doesn’t intend to prevent small companies, even in exotic cases like this from using work.

  • Leftcopy is a very simple, copyright licensing program that places work in the Social Domain. The Social Domain is almost equivalent to the Public Domain with just one added restriction, the Social Domain prohibits for-profit companies, limited by shares, with more employees than the applicable license allows.

    The Open Source Definition (OSD) is so loose that Open Source is not a legally protected term, so anyone can use it, for anything without any obvious legal repurcussions.

    Leftcopy does not discriminate against any person or group of persons (OSD, Section 5), or discriminate against any field of endeavor (OSD, Section 6).

    No individual employees, groups of employees, individual shareholders, or groups of shareholders, individual company officers, or groups of company officers or any customers from are locked out of using leftcopied work, even commercially.

    The Social Domain does not lock any human beings out, it only locks out companies that do not comply with the format and size criteria in the applicable license.

    On the other hand, Open Source fans extend the concept of a corporation being a ‘legal person’ to unreliable dimensions, making a corporation like Microsoft a subject of Open Source ‘discrimination’, as if it was a ‘field of endeavor’, ‘person’ or ‘group of people’ with protected characteristics! Microsoft has no protected characteristics and a company is not a field of endeavor.

    The OSI have extremely eccentric beliefs about the personhood of corporations. The distinction between an individual, a natural person and a corporation is waived away because it would be admitting defeat in front of their main stakeholders, Big Tech.

    The OSD could have a more neutral term like, ‘restricting access’ rather than ‘discrimination’, but Open Source is already under almost total control by large corporations across all sectors of the economy that the term really means, ‘Pro Big Business’.

    Also see:

  • Leftcopy is a Social Domain license. It is designed to allow The People as many rights as possible to use, modify, share modifications, or share but does not try to guarantee work remains free and publicly available. That requires a certain kind of licensing regime called copyleft.

    The problem with copyleft licensing though is it gives large scale economic exploitation of workers a free pass.

    The added restriction only disallows larger for-proit companies limited by shares to reduce the large scale economic exploitation of workers that haunts these organizations.

  • Copyleft insists source code is always freely available to all, and of course this means big business too.

    Leftcopy insists we, the people are free from large scale economic exploitation of wage labour. It works by explicitly excluding the sorts of corporations copyleft allows.

    Leftcopy is not free in the copyleft sense, which is often compared to ‘Free Speech’:

    Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. Think of “free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”. Free software is a matter of the users’ freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.1

    Copyleft stops only one dirty trick wealthy media proprietors, internet entrepreneurs, shady financiers and secretive industrialists play, which is using copyright for monopoly power and to actively censor human creativity.

    But copyleft is powerless in the face of large scale economic exploitation of wage labour given freely under copyleft because work is also made available to for-profit companies with limited liability, (ironically, as a matter of principle!).

    ‘Free’ as in ‘Free Trade’ is a better analogy for Copyleft licensing. Unlike permissive or Open Source licensing, copyleft insists on unrestricted access to work scientists, artists, engineers and other freelancer’s produce when they apply it.

    Comparing free software with free speech is an astonishing admission, given how fake news, alternative facts and conspiracy theories show how the concept of free speech is hopelessly flawed.

    With so many useful constraints around commercial speech, hate speech and many other communicative restrictions placed on people, it’s no bad thing ‘Free speech’ is not so much a moral principle but a moral hazard.

    It is no coincidence to see Big Tech is moving into copyleft spaces, seeking to penetrate even further into health, media, government, education and environmental sectors at a time when serious consideration is needed about how to stop them from interfering.

    Big Tech is pulling all the strings behind the scenes in the copyleft pantomime.

    1. Free Software Foundation 

  • Not really.

    By all means, post a link, or a small snippet, thumbnail or a short abstract but be aware that posting substantial amounts of work on popular platforms run by big business is very likely to undermine the effectiveness of Leftcopy.

    Using the largest internet companies requires a high level of discretion. As well as the well known, privacy concerns and sharp practice, they also insert themselves as major distributors.

    When you upload a photo on social media, the licence terms aren’t able to be revoked, and once you agree to them you can’t stop the ongoing circulation and reuse of the content by others, even after you have deleted your own account.

    […]there is a commercial logic behind social media platforms’ terms of service.

    When people upload their images online, their use is regulated by the social media’s contract terms. This includes giving Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the others the right to use, reuse and sublicense use of the images. These platforms also collect images and data for their own marketing purposes, like promoting sponsored advertising.1

    So, just watch out, large platforms require users to sign up to site-wide, terms of service contracts that are likely to undermine the effectiveness of Leftcopy.

    Using alternative platforms can prevent substantial amounts of work ending up supplying big capital with undeserved benefits.

    Software, books, research journals, communities and other resources are offered by enthusiasts, small producers, non-profits, civic institutions and independent publishers here and here and here, here and here. Most do not tie up substantial amounts of work with capitalist for-profits.

    Use them, and tell everyone about them!

    1. Emi Berry, 2019. Who owns the content on social media? UNSW Newsroom. 

  • All producers need to understand the rights they may be giving up by using a particular license, and the possible legal repercussions of licensing their work in a particular way.

    Leftcopy does not offer a clear legal route to base a case against another user in terms of petitioning in court for financial rewards in the same way copyright does.

    Artists, authors, designers and engineers can use Leftcopy to waive their rights to financial compensation in their work to communicate their political beliefs and for advancing their reputation in securing service contracts for customization for clients, offering support, consultancy services and following up on other business opportunities.

    Other licensing programs may be better established and more popular, however court cases suggest there is a lot of misunderstanding about them.

    For example, the GNU GPL places more restrictions than Leftcopy on modified software by insisting all ‘derivative works’ adopt the same terms.

    Leftcopy allows derivative works and modifications to be released under a different license, even a proprietary one. Provided the user is not a capitalist for-profit company limited by shares, there are only minimal restrictions placed on how work is used.

    Leftcopy is based on what are known as a permissive licenses, but with an added restriction that explicitly disallows capitalist for-profits from using the work.

  • The motivation for Leftcopy is not to smash the entire world. Capitalism already does a pretty good job of doing that. It’s about defeating worker economic exploitation. Allowing small-scale commercial use may look like a bug if you believe all businesses must be worker-led, but allowing small-scale commercial use is not a bug, it’s a feature of a qualitative analysis into the two main factors that correlate to large scale worker economic exploitation: size and format.


    Organizational size can be measured in a number of ways, (e.g. turnover, assets, profits). The most meaningful metric for the purposes of reducing high levels of worker economic exploitation in the world economy is number of employees:

    Capitalist production only begins when each individual capitalist employs simultaneously a comparatively large number of workers; when consequently the labour-process is carried on on an extensive scale and yields, relatively, large quantities of products.

    A greater number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.1

    Small, profit-seeking businesses and sole traders behave badly too, but sole traders are mainly exploiting themselves and downstream worker economic exploitation in small to medium sized businesses is less significant than in the largest corporations.

    The guilds of the middle ages […] tried to prevent by force the transformation of the master of a trade into a capitalist, by limiting the number of labourers that could be employed by one master within a very small maximum… Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his “Logic”), that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes.2

    Here is a snapshot of a typical business population:

    The UK private sector comprises largely of non-employing businesses and small employers. There were 5.82 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.3% of the total business population.3

    This analysis supports the need is for a Social Domain license capable of defeating capitalist entities wanting to exploit workers while encouraging large economies to orient towards small scale business, voluntary/non-profits and civic institutions without excessive disruption to working people’s lives.

    Economic Exploitation

    Note: The scale of exploitation of wage labour within a given business, industrial sector or country is calculated as the difference between sales, value of shipments, or revenue of employer firms and annual payroll costs.


    All large organizations are highly influential. When a large government department, non-profit or public institution gets something wrong, it can go as spectacularly wrong as any private company. A publicly funded health trust, educational supervision board or environmental agency is also just as likely to make big mistakes as a privately owned corporation.

    But voluntary/non-profits and civic institutions have very different incentives and are structured differently. Firstly, they are not oriented towards making profits for shareholders and so there is no division of accountability. This means there are usually more democratic routes to ‘opening them up’ and editing (or deleting!) them when things go wrong than there are in privately owned companies with profits to maintain.

    For-profit companies with limited liability offer public benefits less directly because they are first and foremost accountable to their shareholders. Public accountability is more a matter for their marketing department, not a central design feature like it is in many public institutions.

    This is why organizations that are not for-profit companies limited by shares are not subject to the upper size limit thresholds. For-profit companies limited by shares that find themselves exceeding the upper threshold limit for number of employees must:

    Convert to an organization like a non-profit company limited by guarantee, charitable foundation or using a FairShares Model, OR

    Reduce the number of employees below the upper limit detailed in the license through corporate restructuring, OR

    Cease using work applied to Leftcopy.

    1. Karl Marx, 1887. Capital (Volume I). Progress Publishers, Chapter 13 ‘Co-operation’ 

    2. ibid, p218 


  • People are rightly concerned about leaving technology open to the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Google. Their bad behaviour makes headline news almost every day so efforts like Ethical Source have been set up to change this, by targeting producers of software, to try to make them more accountable for what they are tasked with automating.

    Ethical Source is a kind of voluntary self-regulation. It’s based on a popular intervention that tries to delineate moral consensus in many diverse professions all clamouring for the same kind of social prestige. The exemplary case is perhaps medicine, which was established through much stricter government controls and formal educational standards, but in some countries even yoga tutors can volunteer to be regulated by one corporate scheme or another.

    Demonstrating professional standing in software is as important as in any other sector. Freelance producers are no different to self-employed electricians or yoga teachers in that all self-employed people need to portray a trustworthy image. There is competitive advantage to be had in offering reassurance that they aren’t the sort of people that (metaphorically speaking) want to ‘f*ck with cats’.

    Evidence suggests voluntary self-regulation is slightly effective at keeping certain kinds of people out of a particular field, people who are either unwilling or unable to meet the criteria. It does this by creating barriers to market entry and this also helps keep pay rates slightly higher. There is little evidence that voluntary self-regulation protects the public as much as the lobbyists in favor of it claim though.

    Perversely, the incentives for people signing up for voluntary self-regulation mask the fact that small businesses and freelancers pose a relatively trivial threat to society when compared to Big Tech.

    Schemes like Ethical Source target all the ‘little people’, and let big corporations off the hook. This is the misfortune of voluntary self-regulation in the form of ethical standards. Leaving the distribution of ethical standards to the ‘little folk’ already struggling with compressed occupational narratives piles on the pressure for them, while big corporations continue to behave as badly as they dare.

    Schemes like Ethical Source create additional burdens for (mostly) well-intentioned, ‘mom and pop’ sized producers, while the greatest risks to society posed by large corporates continue to advance monopolies and censorship.

    The largest monopolies continue to dictate the workforce, education, public health and environmental agendas and that is why Leftcopy proscribes them. This is an intervention to effectively disallow large scale economic exploitation of wage labour.

  • Leftcopy is a much shorter license and is less intimidating.

    Also, the Peer Production License (PPL) restricts anyone seeking to generate a profit for shareholders by subtracting value from the payroll. This includes all small businesses where there might be only a few people employed and so is less capitalistic. See FAQ #8: Is allowing small-scale commercial use, a bug?

    Leftcopy allows small scale commercial use and unlimited voluntary/non-profit and civic use because evidence data suggests larger for-profits economically exploit workers much more.

    We agree with Marx, in that the moment of capitalist production can be ascertained most reliably by rating the size of a commercial enterprise based on the number of workers it employs.

    With the PPL, to be eligible businesses must be worker-owned. With Leftcopy, any business below certain size and format constraints can participate based on the evidence that worker economic exploitation is generally higher among larger, profit-seeking companies.