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Copyright, Culture, and Community in Virtual Worlds

8 May 2015

We have accumulated an increasingly rich body of data concerning online communities, particularly those that share virtual environments. The on-line interactions of such communities are uniquely mediated by the audiovisual content of the software interface, which becomes a feature of shared culture. Much of this content is subject to copyright law, which confers on the copyright owner the legal right to prevent certain unauthorized uses of the content. Such exclusive rights impose a limiting factor on the development of communities that are situated around the interface content, as the rights, privileges, and exceptions associated with copyright generally tend to disregard the cultural significance of copyrighted content. Thus, the opportunity for on-line communities to legally access and manipulate the graphical elements on which their communities are built is frought with potential legal liability. Reconsideration of current copyright law would be required in order to accommodate the cohesion of online communities through cultural uses of copyrighted content.