Copyright in the networked world: gray copyright

Publication Date13 Jun 2008
AuthorMichael Seadle
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Library & information science
Copyright in the networked
world: gray copyright
Michael Seadle
Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Purpose – This paper uses an inductive approach to define “gray copyright.” It is needed to describe
those situations in which the practical degree of copyright protection can best be measured in shades
of risk rather than in simple terms of black and white.
Design/methodology/approach – Two methods are used. One is an inductive definition builds up
the term’s meaning example by example and layer by layer. The second is a behavioral experiment in
the spirit of the prisoner’s dilemma game.
Findings – In the examples of gray copyrights the deciding factor in the grayness is not its legal
status, but the economic value of enforcing the usage rights. In the experiment the students have an
opportunity to acquire a personal sense of the risks and choices involved in copyright infringements.
Originality/value – This analysis shifts the emphasis from the question of legal right and wrong to
the economic issue of what risks are potential infringers and rights holders prepared to take.
Keywords Copyright law,Behaviour, Economics, Teaching
Paper type Case study
The term “gray copyright” does not exist in the copyright literature as far as I am
aware, but it ought to and it is needed to describe those situations in which the
practical degree of copyright protection can best be measured in shades of risk rather
than in simple terms of black and white. To define this term more precisely, I would
like to apply an inductive method that offers several examples of situations where the
term “gray copyright” seems to fit.
The term is intentionally analogous to the well-established term “gray literature”
that covers a wide range of real but in some sense unofficial or unrecognized
publications. The grayness here has to do with status, not risk and the overlap between
gray copyrights and gray literature is certainly incomplete, though the likely risk of
using a work of gray literature without permission is certainly less (and in that sense
grayer) than a work from a standard commercial publisher.
As Hal Varian (2005) points out, there is renewed interest in the economic issues
involved in copyright and other forms of intellectual property, and yet the discourse
about them in the library community mainly engages the legal, social and moral
aspects. Right and wrong plays a role, but as every library and computer center
director knows, large amounts of money are at stake. A library or university that
always errs on the side of paying or forgoing works that technically have copyright
protection but practically seem unprotected will likely spend more than one that takes
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Michael Seadle is Editor of Library Hi Tech. He is also a Professor at Humboldt University in
Berlin, Germany, and Director of the Institute for Library and Information Science. He is not a
lawyer, and nothing in this column should be interpreted as legal advice.
Copyright in the
networked world
Received 13 March 2008
Revised 14 March 2008
Accepted 15 March 2008
Library Hi Tech
Vol. 26 No. 2, 2008
pp. 325-332
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/07378830810880469

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