Our fun conversation this weekend makes it clear that many readers are unfamiliar with permission standards in contemporary academia. See below for further discussion.

Note that standards differ across fields and across countries. So, what is true about permissions in economics in the US may not be true for sociology in South Korea. Yet since all the cases that we seem to worry about at EphBlog concerns senior theses in economics at Williams, all we need to worry about, for now, is US standards in academic economics. (I think that the standards in political science, history, and sociology in the US are identical to those I describe below. Other experts (Sam, Derek and Rory, respectively) are invited to chime in.)

Note, also, the the most important distinction is between work that is public and work that is not public. I suspect that Sam is getting at that distinction when he writes about a colleague seeking his permission to reference one of his non-public papers. We all agree with that! If a colleague shows you one of his papers in draft form — a paper that he has not placed on the web, deposited in a library or otherwise made public — than we all agree that you ought to seek his permission before referencing it. Instead, the trickier case involves papers that have been made public, whether or not they have been published per se.

There are three main categories:

1) Papers that provide no guidance. Example: Winston, Hill, Zimmerman (2007) (pdf). This is by far the most common scenario in economics. More than 90% of the papers I read handle things similarly. (Some include a specific copyright notice. Most don’t bother. It doesn’t matter since copyright is automatic and does not depend on the authors using ©.) Every other economist reading this paper would assume that citing it (consistent with Fair Use) is OK. The authors do not need to provide explicit permissions. You do not need to contact them. (Indeed, doing so would be considered weird.)

2) Papers that provide explicit permission. Example: Nurnberg, Schapiro and Zimmerman (2010) (pdf).

Short sections of text, not to exceed two paragraphs, may be quoted without explicit permission provided that full credit, including © notice, is given to the source.

This is actually quite uncommon in economics in the US. (Perhaps this is standard boilerplate for NBER?)

3) Papers that require permission. Example: Goethals, Hurshman, Sischy, Winston, Zhelev, and Zimmerman (2004) (pdf).

This paper is intended for private circulation and should not be quoted or referred to without the permission of the authors.

Every US academic economist would grant that this is a reasonable request that must be honored. (Whether such a request has legal standing is a more difficult issue.) No economist I know would quote this paper without getting permission to do so.

Summary: In US academic economics, if you do not include a specific request in your publicly available paper that other authors seek your permission before quoting, then other researchers will assume that, consistent with Fair Use, they have permission to do so. I would be surprised if the assumption were any different in other academic fields, but am happy to be educated on the topic.

So, getting back to Peter Nurnberg’s thesis, the only question is: Did he request that readers seeks his permission before quoting it? He did not. (If you don’t believe me, check out the hard copy in the archives.) So, my post doing so (without his previous permission) is perfectly consistent with the norms of academic economics in the US.

Careful readers will note that all three of my examples include Williams Professor David Zimmerman, Nurnberg’s thesis adviser, among the authors.

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