January 24, 2022

Georgia Tech Research Finds Copyright Confusion has ‘Chilling Effects’ in Online Creative Publishing

From Georgia Tech:

Online content creation has become easier than ever and is quickly reaching parity with content consumption. From writing a blog or social media post to letting an app turn your photos into a video montage, anyone with an Internet connection can publish these creations with the click of a button.

But in the age of web publishing, it has become increasingly confusing for content creators to figure out how to protect their original works or to use other content legally, such as for remixes or parodies, on major websites for user-generated content, including YouTube and DeviantArt. These findings are from a new Georgia Institute of Technology study that found that copyright is a frequent topic of conversation – and confusion – in eight of the most popular creative online communities worldwide, which collectively have some 20 million publicly available forum posts on their sites.

The study notes that copyright law is navigated on a daily basis by Internet users, and that for amateur creative types publishing on the web’s largest creative venues, they often don’t trust the websites to safeguard their art. The findings include user concerns about whether the websites can prevent others from copying their work without permission or outright pirating or plagiarizing. On the other end of the spectrum are those who want to legally reuse and remix content online but have no clear path on how to pursue this option. When seeking advice on when they are allowed to appropriate or remix content, users are sometimes discouraged from doing so, either by website policies or by other users interpreting the law too strictly. Researchers say this acts as a “chilling effect,” when users choose not to do something that is legally permitted for fear of getting into trouble.

“The dataset showed specific instances of chilling effects within these communities,” says Casey Fiesler, a Ph.D. Candidate in Human-Centered Computing and the primary investigator. “These include decisions by users not to upload their work onto YouTube due to improper takedown notices or creators being told that their work would definitely be infringing if they didn’t get permission from the copyright holder.”


With an initial dataset of 100,000 public forum posts from websites dedicated to user-generated video, writing, art and music, Georgia Tech researchers found that copyright had a prominent place in discussion threads. For example, at any given point an estimated 13% of the posts in YouTube help forums are about copyright. The posts were primarily Q&A threads under general topics since none of the sites offered dedicated copyright forums. The researchers determined a list of 16 keywords (e.g. attorney, illegal, permission, license, copying) to filter the posts for the study, which resulted in a clear theme that permeated the user discussions:

“Over and over again, the prevalence of problems related to copyright was expressed by creators in the conversations,” says Fiesler. “Most of the posts in our dataset could be labeled as expressing some sort of problem.”

The five major problem or challenge areas identified were:

For creators seeking to appropriate or reuse content –

(1) avoiding trouble

Links(2) dealing with consequences

For creators seeking to protect their work –

(3) fear of infringement

(4) dealing with infringement

For both groups –

(5) “Incomplete information” preventing them from making informed decisions on copyright.

Read the Complete Summary

The full text of the research article by Casey Fiesler, Jessica L. Feuston, and Amy S. Bruckman  that’s discussed above is available online.

See: “Understanding Copyright Law in Online Creative Communities”

See Also: On March 4, 2014 we shared a link to another research paper by Casey Fiesler and Amy Bruckman:
“Remixers’ Understandings of Fair Use Online”

See Also: Yes, this is the Same Casey Fiesler who received a lot of attention for Barbie, Remixed.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.