Working the Crowd: Employment and Labor Law in the Crowdsourcing Industry
62 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2010 Last revised: 17 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 16, 2011
This Article confronts the thorny questions that arise in attempting to apply traditional employment and labor law to “crowdsourcing,” an emerging online labor model unlike any that has existed to this point. Crowdsourcing refers to the process of taking tasks that would normally be delegated to an employee and distributing them to a large pool of online workers, the “crowd,” in the form of an open call.
The Article describes how crowdsourcing works, its advantages and risks, and why workers in particular subsections of the paid crowdsourcing industry may be denied the protection of employment laws without much recourse to vindicate their rights. Taking Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform as a case study, the Article explores the nature of this employment relationship in order to determine the legal status of the “crowd.” The Article also details the complications that might arise in applying existing work laws to crowd labor. Finally, the Article presents a series of brief recommendations. It encourages legislatures to clarify and expand legal protections for crowdsourced employees, and suggests ways for courts and administrative agencies to pursue the same objective within our existing legal framework. It also offers voluntary “best practices” for firms and venues involved in crowdsourcing, along with examples of how crowd workers might begin to effectively organize and advocate on their own behalf.
Keywords: Crowdsourcing, Employment, Labor, Cyberlaw
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