Collaborative Authorship: From Folklore to the Wikborg

37 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2012 Last revised: 29 Apr 2015

Date Written: April 29, 2011


Is collaboration an exception or the rule in the production of cultural resources? While the US courts recognize the prevalence of collaboration in cultural activities, they consistently provide a narrow interpretation of the "joint work" clause in Copyright law. This project first identifies the current legal standards for "joint authorship" and asks what the underlying collective moral choices are. I then contrast the legal doctrine with two kinds of massive and open-ended collaborations: folklore (in particular, indigenous songs) and the "wikiborg" (in particular, Wikipedia and its sister projects). Each community has communal norms and practices that reflect their distinct collective moral choices. As these communities are part of the larger society, at times their normative systems may conflict with the institutionalized legal system. I review instances where communal norms are defended against appropriation by outsiders and against individual members' private property claims. I show that conventional use of copyright law-despite its individualist model-can provide a tool to advance communal goals, and that free licenses-albeit designed to go around copyright law to facilitate collaboration-can be used to assert individual authorial control. While a community may effectively deploy legal strategies to defend their collective practices and values, what may be of more importance for sustaining communal practices and values are the strengthening of communal norms and the continuous negotiation within the community.

Keywords: Copyright, Joint work, Joint authors, Wikipedia, Folklore, Indigenous songs, Collaboration

Suggested Citation

Chen, Shun-Ling, Collaborative Authorship: From Folklore to the Wikborg (April 29, 2011). Journal of Law, Technology and Policy, Vol. 2011, No. 1, 2011, Available at SSRN:

Shun-Ling Chen (Contact Author)

Institutum Iurisprudentiae ( email )

128 Academia Sinica Rd., Sec. 2
Taipei City, 11529

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