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From left to right less rights for a licensee/user of a software and more rights retained by the owner.First three license categories from left are considered being part of the "free software" ecosystem, also including public domain like licenses (such as CC0).A free software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software.

In the mid-1980s, the GNU project produced copyleft free software licenses for each of its software packages.

An early such license (the "GNU Emacs Copying Permission Notice") was used for GNU Emacs in 1985, In this trend companies and new projects (Mozilla, Apache foundation, and Sun, see also this list) wrote their own FOSS licenses, or adapted existing licenses.