Copyright or Copyleft? Wikipedia as a Turning Point for Authorship

(2014) 25(1) Kings Law Journal 102

25 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2014

See all articles by Daniela Simone

Daniela Simone

University College London - Faculty of Laws

Date Written: July 1, 2013


The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides that copyright subsists in original literary works and that the author of such a work is the owner of the copyright subsisting in it. This article considers the unique challenge that Wikipedia poses for copyright’s rules of subsistence. The article is structured in three parts. The first part outlines the model of collective authorship which thrives on Wikipedia – describing how Wikipedia works and suggests some reasons why it works. The second part offers a critical analysis of the relationship between collective authorship on Wikipedia and the concept of a work of joint authorship in copyright law. In particular, this part considers whether: (i) Wikipedia as a whole, or individual Wikipedia pages are original literary works in which copyright subsists; and (ii) whether Wikipedia contributors are joint authors and thus copyright owners. The third part examines the role of copyleft licences in sustaining collective authorship on Wikipedia and considers the ongoing relevance of copyright law standards in this context. The article concludes that the example of Wikipedia reveals some unanswered questions that lie at the heart of copyright’s notion of authorship, providing an opportunity to reconsider the way in which this notion has been understood to date and how it might adapt to creativity in the modern digital environment.

Keywords: Collective Authorship, Wikipedia, Copyright, Copyleft, Social Norms, Joint Authorship

Suggested Citation

Simone, Daniela, Copyright or Copyleft? Wikipedia as a Turning Point for Authorship (July 1, 2013). (2014) 25(1) Kings Law Journal 102. Available at SSRN: or

Daniela Simone (Contact Author)

University College London - Faculty of Laws ( email )

Gower St
London WC1E OEG, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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