“Knitwear cases seem to be particularly tricky”: Bloggers’ and Blog Readers’ Understandings of Intellectual Property Law

Title“Knitwear cases seem to be particularly tricky”: Bloggers’ and Blog Readers’ Understandings of Intellectual Property Law
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Kozak, N. I.
Affiliation (1st Author)School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Section or WGLaw Section
DateFri 28 June
Slot CodeLAWF1a
Slot Code (Keyword)LAWF1a
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleProperty and Capital
Submission ID7091

Much scholarly and legal analysis examines intellectual property protections, considering their implementation, the primary beneficiaries of existing laws, potential revisions, and strategies and tactics employed by individuals and corporations who seek to circumvent them. Much less work explores how content producers and users understand the intellectual property protections that are currently in place, particularly in the case of small content producers. This research is centrally concerned with how people access and understand existing copyright protections. To undertake this work, rather than using common sites of intellectual property analysis, such as music or feature films, this research explores blogs written by handicrafters, who sew, quilt, knit, craft and write about their experiences on their online blogs. Handicrafters inhabit an interesting position in relation to intellectual property protections, where some of their content is protectable using standard IP rights whereas other portions of their work cannot be protected by these rights. Written knitting patterns, for example, are copyrightable and hence unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. However, the actual items created by handicrafters receive less, if any, protection. While crafting in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was something practiced and shared across generations, cultures, and places, increasingly crafters find themselves engaged with the traditional world of intellectual property rights. The primary research question of this study is how do handicrafters and craft bloggers understand intellectual property protections? This is an important question as it opens up room for consideration and debate in other intellectual property realms about what, exactly, users think intellectual property laws say. This is an important question to explore as peoples’ interpretations of intellectual property rules centrally impact their practice. In other words, this research explores handicrafters’ access to intellectual property law. To answer the research question posed above, the project uses a sample of 41 blog posts concerning intellectual property, particularly copyright, from 25 different blogs. In addition to the bloggers’ posts themselves, qualitative textual analysis has been carried out on the 2265 comments posted by readers of the blogs. Beyond the qualitative textual analysis, these blog comments form a corpus of material for a forthcoming quantitative content analysis, which will be included in the final paper. A handful of the original blog posts were identified through leisure reading by the author; the remainder was amassed through snowball sampling, using mentions of other discussions of copyright occurring elsewhere on crafting blogs. The sample includes posts ranging from 2006 until 2012 and includes blog posts written in the United States, United Kingdom, as well as Australia. All of the blogs and comments analyzed are written in English. While the content analysis portion of the work is currently being performed, preliminary results from the textual analysis indicate that the bloggers and their readers have a wide variety of understandings of intellectual property law; some of which have little to do with the actual copyright laws of the United States or the United Kingdom. Instead, evaluations more often reflect understandings of “right” and “wrong,” personal interest, morality, or other community or social norms rather than one based in the letter of the law. One central finding of the textual analysis is the role that monetary benefit plays in the handicrafters’ discussions of copyright. In many discussions of intellectual property violation within the sample, discussants are concerned with whether or not a pattern or design is being used for commercial purposes. In the crafters’ understanding of intellectual property, a dichotomy is established between reproduction and use of patterns and designs for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Crafters tend to agree that the latter use is more acceptable than use for commercial purposes. Copyright law, however, gives exclusive rights of copying, distributing, and derivative works to rights holders and does not consider commerce. While some alleged intellectual property violations are egregious enough that a crafter seeks legal counsel, many intellectual property issues are dealt with using an understanding of copyright worked out by the participants in a particular blog discussion, the vast majority of whom are not attorneys and appear not to have read the relevant copyright law. This research project examines and analyses the understandings of copyright law that handicrafting communities are working out and compares them to the existing intellectual property laws in the United States and the United Kingdom with the aim of understanding more fully how people interpret, and therefore, employ intellectual property laws in their daily lives and work.

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