Two types of copyright licenses are currently examining proposed updates that may be of interest to Wikipedia contributors. One is the ubiquitous GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), which may be adjusted to allow for Wikipedia to switch over to the GSFDL, designed as a simpler license without such features as invariant sections. Meanwhile, Creative Commons has proposed a clarification to its portfolio of licenses over the issue of moral rights.
As text on Wikipedia is under the GFDL, a change to the GSFDL, or GNU Simpler Free Documentation License, would potentially affect the entire text of the project. The GFDL, of which version 1.2 is in use on Wikipedia, is undergoing a revision process itself. Addressing one of the challenges for distributing selections from Wikipedia, the new GFDL version 2 would allow "excerpts" of up to 20,000 characters of text (excluding formatting mark-up) in electronic form, 12 normal printed pages, or a minute of audio or video to be distributed without a copy of the full license, as long as they contained a URL where the license could be found.
The GSFDL tracks much of the GFDL language but eliminates references to document features such as "cover texts" and "invariant sections", portions that must be preserved without alteration in future versions of the original work. Wikipedia already does not accept submissions using these features, since they conflict with the principle of a wiki where anyone can modify the content. The GSFDL is still at the first draft stage and comments on the text are invited at Wikipedia:GSFDL. Comments thus far have addressed the text of the preamble, how best to deal with attribution requirements, and what to do about the requirement to preserve copyright notices.
In a somewhat more arcane issue, Creative Commons announced its own proposed license change last week. Along with a number of other changes, earlier this year version 3.0 of the CC family of licenses introduced a clause dealing with moral rights. These are a set of artists' rights in addition to standard copyright, such as the right to be acknowledged as the author of the work and to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification that would prejudice the author's honour or reputation. The extent of these rights is a matter of controversy, particularly since moral rights laws usually expect authors not to waive or renounce them, and different jurisdictions have recognized or ignored these rights to varying degrees.
The moral rights clause would be modified to address confusion about the subject, according to a recent CC blog post. Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig explained that the change was proposed primarily to address concerns from people involved in Wikimedia projects. He said that "some — especially within the Wikipedia community — have read this clause to mean not that moral rights are untouched, but that moral rights are being enforced by the license. That was not our intent."
In particular, the concern from some Wikipedia contributors was that the 3.0 version of the license risked introducing these rights into jurisdictions where they were far more limited. The change in wording is meant to address this issue, clarifying that the license does not reserve moral rights where they do not apply, while not attempting to waive them in jurisdictions where that is not allowed.