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Copyright Law as Mediational Means:

Report on a Mixed Methods Study of U.S. Professional Writers

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Purpose: This article reports on 12 select findings from a sequential mixed-methods, empirical study of U.S. educational-context professional writers composing for the Web. The study explores the status of knowledge and understanding of U.S. copyright law, levels of chilled speech, and the use of rhetorical invention in such digital writing contexts.

Method: Research methods include a digital survey receiving 334 responses from randomly selected students/teachers and discourse-based interviews with seven of these participants.

Results: With respect to authorship, Web writers sometimes occupy conflicting positions. Empirical evidence challenges traditional ideas of authorship, i.e., a single author working alone in a garret, producing texts from his or her sole creative genius. The study finds digital writers' speech is not as “chilled” as one might expect, and while knowledge of copyright law is important to digital writers, they are fairly confident in the knowledge they have. Copyright law is not the primary concern of digital writers. As it turns out, ethics trumps the law in importance when considering digital composing choices. In the area of copyright knowledge, key misunderstandings appeared among writers. For example: confusion on (1) the difference between copyright and plagiarism, (2) unauthorized use and authorized use, (3) the government exception to copyright, and (4) the fact that U.S. copyright law protects “creative” work to a higher extent than it protects “factual” work.

Conclusion: The study hopes to provide a methodology for further research, and a baseline in the area of knowledge and understanding of copyright law as it intersects with invention, among the professional writing population.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-02-01

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