Some open-source licenses contain a copyright notice at the beginning, and then further down in the license text, refer to "the above copyright notice". When these licenses are stored in the SPDX database, they are stored without a specific copyright notice; instead they are essentially templates. For example, the second line in SPDX's MIT reads
Copyright (c) <year> <copyright holders>
Sometimes, this SPDX license template text is used not just to relate the content of a license, but to actually convey the license terms of a work.
For example, the REUSE project, as of version 3.0, recommends the following practice for presenting the licensing and copyright information of a software distribution:
- Choose a license.
- Download the plaintext license text from the SPDX database, and place it unmodified in a central LICENSES directory in the distribution.
- Add a reference to the downloaded license, along with copyright information, in a header section in each of the files in the distribution that the license applies to.
For a license like MIT, this gives rise to a situation where the language of the license is now necessarily subject to interpretation. Namely, what does "the above copyright notice" now refer to? The "copyright notice" that is literally above the license text is a template only, while the relevant copyright notice(s) distributed amongst the set of licensed files are not "above" the statement in the license text.
A very literal interpretation of the license text would seem to be that it requires you to retain the copyright notice template, while not requiring you to retain the copyright message(s) in the licensed file(s) themselves. This is clearly absurd, but this is also clearly what it literally says.
Is this something that someone who is considering adopting this method of conveying license terms should worry about?