Copyright and mass social authorship: a case study of the making of the Oxford English dictionary

Cooper, E. (2015) Copyright and mass social authorship: a case study of the making of the Oxford English dictionary. Social and Legal Studies, 24(4), pp. 509-530. (doi: 10.1177/0964663914565848)

100706.pdf - Accepted Version



Social authorship ventures involving masses of volunteers like Wikipedia are thought to be a phenomenon enabled by digital technology, presenting new challenges for copyright law. By contrast, the case study explored in this article uncovers copyright issues considered in relation to a nineteenth century social authorship precedent: the seventy-year process of compiling the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary instigated by the not-for-profit Philological Society in 1858 which involved thousands of casually organised volunteer readers and sub-editors. Drawing on extensive original archival research, the article uses the case study as a means of critically reflecting on the claims of existing interdisciplinary literature concerning copyright and ‘authorship’: unlike the claims of the so-called Romanticism thesis, the article argues that copyright law supported an understanding of NED authorship as collaborative and democratic. Further, in uncovering the practical solutions which lawyers considered in debating issues relating to title and rights clearance, the article uses the nineteenth century experience as a vantage point for considering how these issues are approached today: despite the very different context, the copyright problems and solutions debated in the nineteenth century demonstrate remarkable continuity with those considered in relation to social authorship projects today.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Copyright, Social Authorship, Wikipedia, Oxford English Dictionary, Romanticism.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cooper, Dr Elena
Authors: Cooper, E.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Law
Journal Name:Social and Legal Studies
Publisher:SAGE Publications
ISSN (Online):1461-7390
Published Online:04 February 2015
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 The Author
First Published:First published in Social and Legal Studies 24(4): 509-530
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

University Staff: Request a correction | Enlighten Editors: Update this record