A free cultural work (free content) is, according to the definition of Free Cultural Works, one that has no significant legal restriction on people's freedom to:
- use the content and benefit from using it,
- study the content and apply what is learned,
- make and distribute copies of the content,
- change and improve the content and distribute these derivative works.
Free content encompasses all works in the public domain and also those copyrighted works whose licenses honor and uphold the freedoms mentioned above. Because the Berne Convention in most countries by default grants copyright holders monopolistic control over their creations, copyright content must be explicitly declared free, usually by the referencing or inclusion of licensing statements from within the work.
Although there are a great many different definitions in regular everyday use, free content is legally very similar, if not like an identical twin, to open content. An analogy is the use of the rival terms free software and open source, which describe ideological differences rather than legal ones.
For instance, the Open Knowledge Foundation's Open Definition describes "open" as synonymous to the definition of free in the "Definition of Free Cultural Works" (as also in the Open Source Definition and Free Software Definition). For such free/open content both movements recommend the same three Creative Commons licenses, the CC BY, CC BY-SA, and CC0.