I was reading the question

Are discriminatory free licenses still free?

Regardless the merit of that particular question, one answers states that according to the definition

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

However, I was under the impression that there is still some debate about what does or does not constitute a free software licence? A short note can be found on the related Wikipedia entry, but one can see that a few different bodies categorizes the different licenses: OSI, FSF, Debian, etc.

So using licences that are already available make it clear if you fall in one or another definition. However with custom-made licences, it does not seem too clear to me.

Can someone clarify that for me, or is there a universally accepted definition of "free software licence"?

Edit It came in the comments, as well as a VTC. So I should adress it in the question. I have read the question

What is the difference between free as in beer and free as in speech?

and corresponding answers. I understand perfectly well the difference between free as in beer vs in speech. Let us forget about beers for the time being. Now, that question does not adress what I am asking here. There are different "free" licenses, most give some restriction. There are several bodies defining which licenses are free (I know of OSI, FSF and Debian, for example). They do not seem in effect, to agree on the freedom of certain licenses. So is there a more restricted, somewhat universal definition of a free software?

Note that I originally asked that question on meta, but was suggested to ask it here.

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    @ratchetfreak yes, you made that same comment on meta, but it is only answering the title of my question, not the rest, isn't it? I am asking what constitutes "free" in "free speech". Jul 16, 2015 at 10:07
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    @ratchetfreak No it doesn't. For example, it does not include the quotation that I have in my question. Jul 16, 2015 at 10:10
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    "The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0)." forbids discrimination of usage or users. That said, people either accept the Free Software Definition or they don't. There is no universal acceptance.
    – user490
    Jul 16, 2015 at 10:18
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    For the dupe voters: I'm not entirely sure how the candidate post is a dupe: This one asks for a definition of the license, while the other asks for interpretation of the word "free"
    – Zizouz212
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:12
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    I believe this as Universal definition of "Free Software"
    – Pandya
    Jul 16, 2015 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


However, I was under the impression that there is still some debates about what does or does not constitutes a free software licence?

I don't think there are still any serious debates about this.

However, assuming this question is an earnest one, there are two recognized definitions of of Free Software:

  1. The Free Software Definition by the FSF, where the four essential freedoms are defined (making it clear that it is a matter of "freedom", not price).

  2. The Open Source Defintion of the OSI, which starts out by stating that "Free Redistribution" means the freedom to give away or to sell, without restrictions.

While there are subtle differences between the two, as answered in: What are the philosophical differences between open source and free/libre software (if they exist at all)? - they boil down to the same definition of "free" - that the idea is to provide maximum freedom for users and developers, except the freedom to constrain others. In practical terms (but not in political) these two definitions of "free" are equivalent.

However with custom-made licences, it does not seem too clear to me.

"Custom-made licenses" should be avoided. IMHO, they are a huge problem for the FLOSS community, as they often make it impossible to combine works because of trivial license incompatibilities. Also they are often written by people ignorant about copyright law, making them a legal hazard to use.

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    This is a good answer. To expand on the bit about custom licenses, basically, custom-made licenses (even if they are simple modifications to well-known licenses) frequently fail to qualify as "free/open" under either the FSF or OSI definition, and fail to be GPL-compatible. In most cases this will be because they have a restriction about how the software may be used. For example, taking a free license like BSD modified and adding a clause like "must be used for good" or "non-commercial use only". Even though well-meaning, these are still restrictions that will disqualify it as free/open. Jul 16, 2015 at 13:34

Is there a universal definition of free software?

I think this is universally accepted definition of "Free Software" (Also visit this).

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.


...is there a universally accepted definition of "free software licence"?

I think Free software license is universal.

Universally Accepted Free Software Licenses are:

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