Read more about our research findings into copyright and online creative communities.

These papers have been published as part of our NSF-funded research project.
For more copyright-related publications from this group, see Casey Fiesler’s website.

Understanding Copyright Law in Online Creative Communities

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW) - 2015

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.

Remixers’ Understandings of Fair Use Online

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW) - 2014

How do online content creators make decisions about copyright law? In the course of day-to-day online activities, Internet users are forced to make subtle judgments about one of the most confusing and nuanced areas of law, copyright and fair use. In this study, we conducted semi- structured interviews with eleven content creators who participate in remix and fan creation activities online, to try to probe their legal understandings and attitudes. We found that social norms that emerge among these content creators do not always track to what the law actually says, but are often guided more by ethical concerns. Our participants showed surprisingly similar patterns of understandings and confusions, impacting technology use and interaction online.

Copyright Terms in Online Creative Communities

Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI) - 2014

A key usability problem for websites is the complexity of their terms and conditions. Within the HCI community, attention to this issue to date has primarily focused on privacy policies. We begin to build on this work, extending it to copyright terms. With so many people posting everything from status updates to digital art online, intellectual property rights are increasingly important to the end user. We conducted a content analysis of 30 different websites where users can share creative work, focusing on the licenses and usage rights that users grant to those websites. Due to difficult readability, legalese, and a lack of plain language explanations, it is likely that users may not know what rights they are granting. Next steps include a user survey to determine whether this is the case, and further exploration of the impact on usability.

“I am Not a Lawyer”: Copyright Q&A in Online Creative Communities

Conference on Supporting Group Work (GROUP) - 2014

Once referred to by the Supreme Court as the “metaphysics” of law, many parts of copyright policy are historically confusing. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that in communities where amateur content creators work within a legal gray area, copyright is a frequent topic of conversation. Here, people with often little knowledge of the letter of the law are asking and answering complex legal questions in the context of their creative activities. Working from a content analysis of public forum conversations in eight different online communities, we have examined these questions and answers more closely. By studying these interactions, what can we learn about how people engage with the law and how non-expert advice affects behavior and knowledge?

The Chilling Tale of Copyright Law in Online Creative Communities

XRDS: The ACM Student Magazine - 2013

Online content creators are making decisions every day based on copyright laws that even judges have trouble interpreting. What impact does this confusion over the law have on our technology use and our creativity online?