Submissions/Return of the Disenfranchised Lay Public in the Copyright Politics

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

After careful consideration, the Programme Committee has decided not to accept the below submission at this time. Thank you to the author(s) for participating in the Wikimania 2014 programme submission, we hope to still see you at Wikimania this August.

Submission no. 2521
Title of the submission
The Return of the Disenfranchised Lay Public in Copyright Politics
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Author of the submission
Shun-Ling Chen
E-mail address
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
University of Arizona College of Law
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

The rhetoric that supports the copyright system equates societal progress with the contribution of professionals, which is assumed to be valuable and requires economic incentives. Each expansion of copyright law has reiterated and reinforced such rhetoric. No wonder, copyright law has been largely negotiated by those representing the interests of professional organizations. It is only in recent years that the lay public, which had been disenfranchised in the politics of copyright, resurfaced through online collaborative efforts. We might be seeing a vibrant scene of peer-production, which have been enabled by information technologies and legal strategies. Nevertheless, the equation between progress and professionalism remains strong in society.

Lacking the prestige and credibility that is often associated with valuable cultural productions, peer-production communities are not only easy targets of ridicule, but their contributions are also often undervalued. Wikipedians, for example, have developed a set of content policies to present themselves as a responsible encyclopedia-making community. Despite the efforts that have gone into establishing and policing these policies, Wikipedia's model that allows anyone to edit is still a major source of distrust.

In this presentation I discuss how the lay public is disenfranchised in the politics of copyright law. The equation between the professionals and progress turns the lay public into a secondary subject. I argue that this disenfranchisement is an important factor in our contemporary copyright politics. Breaking, or at least loosening, the tie between professionals and societal progress is key to the appreciation for the peer-production model, as it forces society to reconsider the idea of quality and to question the institutional power in knowledge production. At the same time, breaking/loosening this tie is also instrumental in the reform of copyright law. If Congress could appreciate the value of collaborative works and accept the public as capable producers of knowledge and culture, it would be less likely to take professionals as the only beneficiaries of copyright law. (And perhaps, there would no need to stage a blackout when there is another SOPA-like bill.)

This research is building on my earlier publications "Wikipedia: A Republic of Science Democratized", "Collaborative Authorship: From Folklore to the Wikiborg" (presented in preliminary form at Wikimania 2009) and "The Wikimedia Foundation and the Self-Governing Wikipedia Community: A Dynamic Relationship Under Constant Negotiation”, and will be the subject of a new paper. My focus is on the US copyright law, its history and politics, but I expect the audience will find resemblance in their own countries.

Legal & Free Culture
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes
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Slides or further information (optional)
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  1. OwenBlacker (talk) 21:31, 6 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
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