Standard Internet Licensing Terms

8 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2004

See all articles by Daniel J. Gervais

Daniel J. Gervais

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: November 2002


When material is available on the Internet, and assuming such material was posted by the rightsholder or with the rightsholder's authorization, then the rightsholder does not wish to prevent any use of the material. At the very least, the rightsholder is prepared to allow users to browse the material. Many rightsholders would be prepared to allow further use of the material, sometimes depending on the type of use and/or user concerned

That is where, by and large, copyright has not been able to respond adequately. It has led to the formation of rights mazes. Users wishing to reuse material posted or otherwise made available on the Internet must try to find and then decipher complex copyright terms and conditions, some of which are written by perhaps overzealous lawyers and run several pages long . A user may find such terms too labyrinthine and complex and, as a result, abandon his/her efforts. If those terms and conditions are not readily available, then the user may take the risk of using what in certain jurisdictions courts have called an implied license, but this is perilous at best and offers very little in terms of predictability.

As a result of the above, millions of Internet users who would want to reuse material publicly available on the Internet cannot do so legally. They may then feel that copyright is an obstacle, while in fact the rightsholder would have been ready to authorize such use, but there was no easy way to do so. Or they may decide to use the material without proper authorization, and this tends to reduce respect for copyright and the rule of law on the Internet.

This paper argues that by and large material available on the Intrnet belongs to one of four categories: free, free with restrictions, requiring a license, or not authorized beyond fair use. It then proposed to standardize copyright terms & conditions by using recognizable symbols and links to operationalize each standard set of terms.

Keywords: Internet licensing, copyright, standards, commons

JEL Classification: K20, D45

Suggested Citation

Gervais, Daniel J., Standard Internet Licensing Terms (November 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel J. Gervais (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615 322 2615 (Phone)

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