Copyright law is increasingly relevant to everyday interactions online, from social media status updates to artists showcasing their work. This is especially true in creative spaces where rules about reuse and remix are notoriously gray.
Based on a content analysis of public forum postings in eight different online communities featuring different media types (music, video, art, and writing), we found that copyright is a frequent topic of conversation and that much of this discourse stems from problems that copyright causes for creative activities. We identify the major types of problems encountered, including chilling effects that negatively impact technology use. We find that many challenges can be explained by lack of knowledge about legal or policy rules, including breakdowns in user expectations for the sites they use. We argue that lack of clarity is a pervasive usability problem that should be considered more carefully in the design of user-generated content platforms.

  • The most common type of copyright post in the forums we studied was, by far, question-and-answer.
  • Usually when people talk about copyright in online creative communities, it is because it is causing them some sort of problem.
  • Almost 25% of the forum posts we analyzed included some kind of misleading or incorrect information about copyright.
  • A chilling effect is when you don’t do something that you should be able to do because you’re afraid of getting into legal trouble. We found examples of work that is probably fair use that creators chose not to share online because they thought it might be copyright infringement.
  • Sometimes law, website policies, and social norms conflict.
  • Provide plain language explanations of copyright policies
  • Monitor user concerns and questions about copyright
  • Provide dedicated spaces for legal conversations and questions
  • Consider existing social norms in the creation of policies
  • Scaffold copyright knowledge into content upload tools