The Player-Authors Project
161 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2013 Last revised: 4 Dec 2013
Date Written: November 30, 2013
The Player-Authors Project was a yearlong research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The project used empirical methods to investigate how contemporary user-generated content (“UGC”) platforms and practices related to United States copyright law. The motivation for the project was the relative absence of data about the copyright status of most UGC and competing claims about UGC’s predominant nature.
The Player-Authors Project provides two forms of data:
1. The research team employed random sampling to obtain snapshots of UGC production on a range of UGC platforms, including photo-sharing sites, a 3-D printing site, sites for sharing visual artwork, and a variety of game-related UGC sites. The team sampled the outputs of thirty content populations on sixteen distinct platforms. The collected samples were then described along several dimensions, including an analysis of the potential copyright implications of each item sampled.
2. The research team conducted two online surveys. One survey was taken of a population of 411 video game players. Another survey was taken of 46 video game industry professionals, including game developers. Both surveys sought information about the nature of participant UGC practices, opinions about UGC, and motivations for creating UGC.
This Summary Report provides an overview of our research findings.
Highlights of Research Findings
• The copyright implications of UGC populations vary from platform to platform. While almost all UGC practices raise some copyright issues, referential practices on popular platforms vary widely, even within specific genres of UGC.
• The majority of UGC on most platforms we surveyed appeared to be wholly original and non-infringing. Very little “piracy” (copying of original works wholesale) was noted. If the populations we surveyed are representative of UGC generally, UGC practices should be understood as primarily generative of original works of authorship rather than primarily a form piracy or the creation of derivative works.
• In populations where we examined recent UGC production, referential practices did not generally
correlate with increased popularity of the items sampled. However, our samples of UGC with the highest levels of popularity tended to exhibit significantly higher levels of referential practice. In other words, the works that were the most popular were more likely to be fan (derivative) works.
• A surprisingly small fraction of the UGC surveyed constituted “remix” creativity of the sort that criticized or parodied a referenced work. Scholarship on UGC often celebrates parodies, but the majority of fan works did not criticize the referenced original.
• Simple and less flexible UGC tool sets seem to correlate with a decrease in copyright issues. Conversely, more flexible tools and “denser” forms of authorial production correlated with higher levels of copyright issues.
• With respect to the surveys, professionals in the video game industry believe that UGC is a growing trend, but they have very diverse views regarding the copyright implications of UGC. On average, most professionals believe that players are less interested in UGC than the players actually report.
Keywords: copyright law, user-generated content, UGC, video games
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