Commoditisation of copyright licensing and enforcement

I’ve been looking into getting a licence together for the CDR Commons project, which is inspired by Wikipedia, among other things. Wikipedia uses the GNU Free Documentation Licence, with a couple of options enabled. Another choice is one of the Creative Commons licences. One’s initial leaning is to go with GFDL out of deference to Wikipedia, much as Torvalds chose the GPL out of deference to gcc.

The problem here is that the GFDL is a parameterised licence. It’s not like the GPL, LGPL or BSD licences, where a well-recognised bundle of legal rules is connoted by a collection of three or four letters. You may need to specify GFDL plus “no Invariant Sections”, or one or two other options. Wikipedia does this, and it’s clumsy. But the GFDL itself is under a copyright licence, prohibiting modification, for very obvious reasons. The GFDL and CC licences also presume they’re applying to a single document or single work.

So I’m going to reverse engineer the GFDL and reimplement it with my preferred options enabled by default. Those familiar with free software licensing flamewars will spot the intense irony here. I’ll take the opportunity to hack in features relating to wiki-style collaboration, or rather remove the assumptions relating to monolithic single documents.

As to commoditisation of enforcement, there exists a potential problem with regard to standing to bring a copyright enforcement suit. Only the copyright holder can do this, even if something is licensed as broadly as the GPL. It might be possible to create a legal entity to hold copyrights collectively, whose rules permitted any member willing to pay the legal costs to initiate copyright infringement proceedings against someone whom the actual authors of the software might not be prepared to pursue. This would be commoditised enforcement.

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