Copyright and Feminism in Digital Media

31 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2005 Last revised: 9 Oct 2015

See all articles by Dan L. Burk

Dan L. Burk

University of California, Irvine School of Law


Although feminist perspectives have contributed substantially to the development of both theory and practice in many areas of law, feminism has to date contributed relatively little to discussions regarding intellectual property. This paper examines the relationship between hypermedia and feminist discourse, critiquing the role of copyright in controlling or suppressing such discourses. Hypertext and related media may lend themselves to relational webs of meaning rather than linear progressions of meaning. Given the importance of non-hierarchical, associative webs to feminist discourse, digital media may lend themselves to feminist modes of thinking, or at minimum challenge dominant textual constructions. However, current copyright doctrine assumes that works remain linear, hierarchical, and controlled. The exclusive rights conferred by copyright, and most especially the right of adaptation, lend themselves to authorial control over not only the text, but to a reader's use of the text. This deterrent characteristic of copyright has appeared in several recent legal disputes involving hypertext linking and annotation. Thus, copyright remains hostile to non-traditional collaborative or relational user engagement. This hostility may ultimately frustrate copyright's purpose of promoting the "progress" of knowledge.

Keywords: Feminism, hypertext, copyright, intellectual property, authorship

JEL Classification: O33, O34, K39, K40

Suggested Citation

Burk, Dan L., Copyright and Feminism in Digital Media. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2006; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-12. Available at SSRN: or

Dan L. Burk (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

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