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Madiha Zahrah Choksi
Madiha Zahrah Choksi

Cornell Tech

When (ET)


How Licenses Learn


Open-source licenses are infrastructure that collaborative communities in-habit. These licenses don’t just define the legal terms under which members (and outsiders) can use and build on the contributions of others. They also reflect a community’s consensus on the reciprocal obligations that define it as a community. A license is a statement of values, in legally executable form, adapted for daily use. As such, a license must be designed, much as the software and hardware that open-source developers create. Sometimes an existing license is fit to purpose and can be adopted without extensive discussion. However, often the technical or social needs of a community do not precisely map onto existing licenses, or the community itself is divided about the norms a license should enforce. In these cases of breakdown, the community itself must debate and design its license, using the same social processes it uses to debate and design the other infrastructure it relies on, and the final goods it creates. In this paper, Madiha Zahrah Choksi and James Grimmelmann analyze four case studies of controversy over license design in open-source software and hardware ecosystems.


Madiha is a Ph.D. student in the department of Computing and Information Science. Her work focuses on topics at the intersection of technology, privacy, and law, with a focus on information governance. Specifically, she explores how online communities use technical and legal affordances to express and enact their values, with an emphasis on privacy and openness. Madiha has conducted qualitative and quantitative work investigating how communities with shared experiences (students forced to work with highly surveillant ed-tech tools during the COVID-19 pandemic), shared interests (geographically disparate topical Facebook groups), or shared real-world networks (local community groups on nextdoor) develop, change, and enforce their norms. At Cornell Tech, Madiha is advised by Helen Nissenbaum and James Grimmelmann.

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