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Catherine C. Marshall ( email@example.com) is an
adjunct professor of computer science and engineering
and affiliate of the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries
at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX; she lives in
San Francisco, CA, and volunteers at the Internet Archive
Frank M. Shipman ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor of
computer science and engineering and associate director
of the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas
A&M University, College Station, TX.
© 2017 ACM 0001-0782/17/05. $15.00
online behavior: architecture, law,
market forces, and social norms. As
seen in the overall responses in our
studies, social norms seem to have an
outsized effect on participants’ perceptions of what they (and others) can do
with user-contributed content. Even
social-media-savvy participants have
little understanding of the relevant
legal guidelines. Software-based governance is easy to ignore or thwart.
And much reuse is oblivious to market
forces. Furthermore, social norms are
often nonreciprocal in action; participants in our studies did not always apply the same standards to themselves
that they did to others, especially in
non-abstract practical situations. This
lack of reciprocity is not uncommon in
other aspects of online behavior and
may be attributed to individual users’
ability to reflect on their own motives
and intentions but not those of others.
What are the design and policy implications of these results? For one,
they signal certain design gaps when
media creators use labeling schemes
(such as Creative Commons2); study
participants seemed more sensitive
to actions like reuse when they are offered examples rather than abstract
labels. Hypothetical examples of reuse, especially those based on the
media being labeled, may be helpful
for extending Web users’ understanding of the abstract ideas expressed by
labels. It is no accident that our final
norm addresses highly circumstantial
factors as the nature of the content
(such as “Is it personal?”), the differential scope of the audience (such as
“Is the content going viral or is it play-ing to an audience of 10?” and “How
different is the scope from the original?”), the type of reuse (such as is the
content used in a way that highlights
the original intent?), and the way the
implied (or explicit) social contract
between all potential owners of both
the original and derived work is handled (such as “Is attribution or anonymity desired?”).
Note only one of these factors—the
nature of the content—is known at
publication time, or the time when
content is usually labeled. Other fac-
tors depend on how the content is
reused (such as changes in genre, au-
dience, or publication venue). Still
others are not revealed until time has
passed (such as the differential scope
of the audience). That these factors
are crucial to how a labeling scheme
is used makes us think that supple-
mental mechanisms might be desir-
able; scenarios, hypotheticals, and
mixed-initiative dialogs help content
creators better envision many types of
reuse or decide between attribution or
anonymity or triggers that reveal when
the scope or audience has changed.
Still others depend on, say, the moti-
vations for storing content. Past work
tells us that individuals archive work
that is not their own just as surely as
institutions do. 15
Ownership-driven questions need
to be approached thoughtfully, lest
we impose legal restrictions when
none are necessary or fail to anticipate normal actions that will trigger reactions that could have been
averted. Gaps between desired policy
and current social norms may yet
be bridged through education and
We would like to thank Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley, for supporting
the studies on which this article is
based. Thanks, too, to the study participants for their patient and thoughtful
completion of the lengthy surveys.
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