The ethics, aesthetics and practical politics of ownership in co-creative media

Spurgeon, Christina (2014) The ethics, aesthetics and practical politics of ownership in co-creative media. In Regional Conference of the International Communication Association : Digital Transformations, Social Media Engagement and the Asian Century, 1-3 October 2014, QUT Gardens Point Campus, Brisbane, Australia. (Unpublished)


What is ‘best practice’ when it comes to managing intellectual property rights in participatory media content? As commercial media and entertainment business models have increasingly come to rely upon the networked productivity of end-users (Banks and Humphreys 2008) this question has been framed as a problem of creative labour made all the more precarious by changing employment patterns and work cultures of knowledge-intensive societies and globalising economies (Banks, Gill and Taylor 2014). This paper considers how the problems of ownership are addressed in non-commercial, community-based arts and media contexts. Problems of labour are also manifest in these contexts (for example, reliance on volunteer labour and uncertain economic reward for creative excellence). Nonetheless, managing intellectual property rights in collaborative creative works that are created in community media and arts contexts is no less challenging or complex than in commercial contexts.

This paper takes as its focus a particular participatory media practice known as ‘digital storytelling’. The digital storytelling method, formalised by the Centre for Digital Storytelling (CDS) from the mid-1990s, has been internationally adopted and adapted for use in an open-ended variety of community arts, education, health and allied services settings (Hartley and McWilliam 2009; Lambert 2013; Lundby 2008; Thumin 2012). It provides a useful point of departure for thinking about a range of collaborative media production practices that seek to address participation ‘gaps’ (Jenkins 2006). However the outputs of these activities, including digital stories, cannot be fully understood or accurately described as user-generated content. For this reason, digital storytelling is taken here to belong to a category of participatory media activity that has been described as ‘co-creative’ media (Spurgeon 2013) in order to improve understanding of the conditions of mediated and mediatized participation (Couldry 2008).

This paper reports on a survey of the actual copyrighting practices of cultural institutions and community-based media arts practitioners that work with digital storytelling and similar participatory content creation methods. This survey finds that although there is a preference for Creative Commons licensing a great variety of approaches are taken to managing intellectual property rights in co-creative media. These range from the use of Creative Commons licences (for example, Lambert 2013, p.193) to retention of full copyrights by storytellers, to retention of certain rights by facilitating organisations (for example, broadcast rights by community radio stations and public service broadcasters), and a range of other shared rights arrangements between professional creative practitioners, the individual storytellers and communities with which they collaborate, media outlets, exhibitors and funders.

This paper also considers how aesthetic and ethical considerations shape responses to questions of intellectual property rights in community media arts contexts. For example, embedded in the CDS digital storytelling method is ‘a critique of power and the numerous ways that rank is unconsciously expressed in engagements between classes, races and gender’ (Lambert 117). The CDS method privileges the interests of the storyteller and, through a transformative workshop process, aims to generate original individual stories that, in turn, reflect self-awareness of ‘how much the way we live is scripted by history, by social and cultural norms, by our own unique journey through a contradictory, and at times hostile, world’ (Lambert 118). Such a critical approach is characteristic of co-creative media practices. It extends to a heightened awareness of the risks of ‘story theft’ and the challenges of ownership and informs ideas of ‘best practice’ amongst creative practitioners, teaching artists and community media producers, along with commitments to achieving equitable solutions for all participants in co-creative media practice (for example, Lyons-Reid and Kuddell nd.). Yet, there is surprisingly little written about the challenges of managing intellectual property produced in co-creative media activities. A dialogic sense of ownership in stories has been identified as an indicator of successful digital storytelling practice (Hayes and Matusov 2005) and is helpful to grounding the more abstract claims of empowerment for social participation that are associated with co-creative methods. Contrary to the ‘change from below’ philosophy that underpins much thinking about co-creative media, however, discussions of intellectual property usually focus on how methods such as digital storytelling contribute to the formation of copyright law-compliant subjects, particularly when used in educational settings (for example, Ohler nd.). This also exposes the reliance of co-creative methods on the creative assets storytellers (rather than on the copyrighted materials of the media cultures of storytellers) as a pragmatic response to the constraints that intellectual property right laws impose on the entire category of participatory media. At the level of practical politics, it also becomes apparent that co-creative media practitioners and storytellers located in copyright jurisdictions governed by ‘fair use’ principles have much greater creative flexibility than those located in jurisdictions governed by ‘fair dealing’ principles.

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ID Code: 77733
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: No
Additional URLs:
Keywords: digital storytelling, co-creative media, copyright, ownership, intellectual property, participatory media
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES (200100) > Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies (200102)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Current > Schools > Journalism, Media & Communication
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 [please consult the author]
Deposited On: 16 Oct 2014 02:46
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2016 09:31

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