To read this content please select one of the options below:

Dissemination of knowledge and copyright: an historical case study

Tony Volpe (University of Aix-Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, France)
Joachim Schopfel (University of Lille III, Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 12 August 2013




Does copyright protection reduce or foster intellectual and industrial creation? Based on a case study from history of science, the aim is to provide more controversial evidence to this debate.


The investigation used primary and secondary sources from the history of science and made the link to the actual debate on copyright, piracy and scientific communication.


The paper describes how Elzevier, through non-authorized exploitation of a new product and without consideration of the editor's legitimate interests, in a context of missing copyright protection, largely contributed to the dissemination of the French Journal de Savants and its content, and finally to the success of scientific journals. Obviously, rights infringement can not only promote the interest and objective of the rights holder but also and above all contribute to the emergence and development of new forms of scientific life. Sometimes, when barriers to communication and debate are too strong, tolerated and calculated infringement may be an option to move the lines/change the situation.

Research limitations/implications

In the post-Gutenberg galaxy, made up of open access, common goods and public domain, open data and e-Science, evaluation, innovation, sustainability, communication and sharing, copyright is not necessarily the (only) option to develop scientific communication. At least, the authors have to study lessons from academic publishing, copyright protection and piracy very carefully.


The paper sheds light on a surprising and not very well-known part of the history of academic publishing.



Acknowledgments to Susan Kovacs and Simon Linacre for their helpful advice.


Volpe, T. and Schopfel, J. (2013), "Dissemination of knowledge and copyright: an historical case study", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 144-155.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles