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

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    One thing I want to point out is that the "free as in speech" is often misused to refer the the GPL. While it is true that GPL software has nearly all the freedoms of public domain software (probably the most free software around) it is lacking the freedom to use the code in a proprietary codebase. GPL supporters say that this enhances the other freedoms because "no one could make it nonfree". – Good Person Oct 19 '10 at 23:29
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  • Renjith, would examples of the drastically different license terms for various software help you understand? – Kevin Cantu Oct 26 '10 at 17:09
  • Visit en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Pandya Dec 17 '15 at 9:22

"Free as in free speech" vs "Free as in free beer" isn't a concept, it is an example of a concept. :-)

This example belongs to the GPL and is used to clarify the definition of "free" in the term "Free Software".

Free beer is gratis. It doesn't cost you anything. The term refers to the price of a product. This is not the intention of the word "free" in this context.

The intention is more like "free" in free speech, the liberty to say the things you want without getting censored.

  • could you explain from the basic words , that is "free beer" and "free speech"? Why they taken beer and speech as the example? – Renjith G Oct 20 '10 at 3:05
  • There are no special reasons why this examples are used. The only one who can finally answer this question would be Richard Stallman, you can find his contact information there: stallman.org Could be an interesting answer g. For more about the phrase see: c2.com/cgi/wiki?FreeAsInBeer – echox Oct 20 '10 at 18:15
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    Ok i will ask him and will post the reply from him asap. – Renjith G Oct 21 '10 at 5:36
  • Yes. I got the reply and it is posted here in this forum in this link (EDIT: reposted as an answer here) – Renjith G Oct 22 '10 at 6:46
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    @Renjith G: Those "beer" and "speech" are just examples that people (at least in the western world) get, because they reference commonly used expressions. People associate "free speech" with freedom or "freedom of speech", and "free beer" with taking benefit of something without paying. – vdboor Feb 28 '11 at 13:15

"free" is ambiguous in English, and FOSS people tend to mean the former when people misinterpret it as the latter, which is why the phrases came about

  • free as in speech means freedom; in an open-source context, the license doesn't prevent you from fiddling with the code or making your own changes
  • free as in beer means price; the software costs nothing

There was (is?) a lot of confusion when people said they support "free software" -- free (as in speech) software doesn't need to cost nothing, and costing nothing doesn't necessarily make software "free".

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    In "free as in speech means freedom", s/freedom/liberty/ will make it more clear, I think. – Andy Lester Oct 20 '10 at 2:57

As I mentioned in the comments here, I e-mailed Mr. Richard Stallman about this. Here is his reply:

From: Richard Stallman
Date: Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 9:12 AM
Subject: Re: “free-as-in-speech” vs. "free-as-in-beer”

QN: I would like to know the exact meaning of "free-as-in-speech" and "free-as-in-beer"

It is hard to give "exact" meanings for philosophical concepts, so I am a bit lost.

The English word "free" has two different meanings. Many other languages have different words for them. For instance, I think Hindi has "mukt" for "free as in freedom" and "muft" for "gratis, zero price'.

QN: Also why this example words (the words free-as-in-speech and free-as-in-beer) are being used to descibe the concept?

Those are not the words I use. I use "free as in 'free speech'" and "free as in 'free beer'". Is that clearer?

It seems you heard someone else shorten the two phrases a little.

Richard Stallman
President, Free Software Foundation
51 Franklin St
Boston MA 02110
www.fsf.org, www.gnu.org

  • What is the exact meaning of "free as in "free speech" "? Is it possible to do free speech on any thing at anywhere ? – Renjith G Oct 22 '10 at 20:49
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    did you understand the concept "freedom of speech" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech ? – echox Oct 22 '10 at 21:09
  • Renjith G: good questions, perhaps, it helps to analyze a bit. Beer can have repercussions such as hangover, while it is hard to see such repercussions from "free speech". If software is free-as-in-beer, perhaps, the term is used to point to the less free long-term perspective. It is hard to invent a general rule how to use the terms, better to break it into parts and ask when they are used as synonyms. – user2362 Jan 2 '11 at 21:50
  • its got nothing to do with the hangover, its referring to the fact that the word free has two different meanings as in your free to do what you want, or here have a free beer..... – squareborg Jul 29 '11 at 18:43
  • Great correspondence, thanks for sharing it! – Daniel Dinnyes Jun 3 '17 at 19:11

In Polish, those are very easily distinguishable, as we have completely different words for the two concepts:

  • wolny represents the "free as in 'freedom'" (or 'free speech') concept

  • darmowy represents the concept of "free as in 'free beer'" (something you do not need to pay for)

  • Hungarian the same ("szabad" vs. "ingyen"). Kisses Brother! – Daniel Dinnyes Jun 3 '17 at 19:30


'Free' word used in the context of Free-speech. Free-speech itself is used very liberally as it's literal meaning could be quite misleading (esp to non-American). So to narrow it further take "Free-speech" as the one of the fundamental rights enjoyed by every US citizen as per US Constitution.

So the 'free' word in 'free software' stands that grand not only to the level of not paying for the software only.

I think everyone else has already accurately described - free as in beer concept. So I wouldn't repeat.


As mentioned in other answers, the English word free is ambiguous, because it can represent two different concepts.

The mayor issue with mixing up the two concepts is that you can have one without the other. And more importantly, no sane person would choose one over the other.

Think of it like this: Accepting my free beer is a contractual agreement between us that you give away your freedom, and you will be my slave. Actually, depending on your personal definition of freedom and slavery, this might just be the case with proprietary operating systems, drivers, and the non-free JavaScript running in your browsers. Many times you even pay for such a contract (so even the beer was not "free"), or worse yet, you feel privileged that you could.

"Knowledge is freedom, Ignorance is slavery"
- Miles Davis

"Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery"
- Bob Marley

These are not less true in software. If I and I have the source code of a program, then I and I can study it. If I and I can change it, then I and I can break out of whatever handcuffs it tries to put on us. If I and I can share the corrected software with fellow humans, then no one would use the malicious one. Therefore it would not even worth the effort on the long term, to try creating a malicious one in the first place.

Richard Stallman often uses the words libre and gratis, which in Spanish/French (Latin origin) correctly represents the two separate concepts. For the same reasons, instead of the acronym FOSS, using FLOSS is highly recomended. In fact if you keep reminding yourself of this daily, it will even improve your dental health.

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    But you may not be legal to do so, even if you have the source. You may have the source (say, for a PHP web app or Perl setup or something) but that doesn't mean that you obtained it under a license that allows modification (even for use by the entity that receives the license) much less redistribution. We've used several products at work that while we had the source, I didn't even bother looking at it due to the way we had licensed it. And that is the whole point of Free software. – ivanivan Jun 3 '17 at 20:50
  • Verily, my child. I see you have your eyes wide open. Nevertheless, keep flossing daily, as dental hygiene is important! Jah bless – Daniel Dinnyes Jun 3 '17 at 21:41
  • Also, if you can afford, give a tip of an upvote for your brother. Jah bless! – Daniel Dinnyes Jun 3 '17 at 21:56

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