Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment & Technology Law


Debora Halbert

First Page



User-generated content is a term used to describe the division between culture produced as a commodity for consumption and the culture that is generated by people acting as creative beings without any market incentive. While under current copyright law all types of creativity are protected, the laws of copyright exist primarily to protect commercial forms of expression, not the non-commercial ones that form the foundation of user-generated content. The disconnect between what current copyright law protects and how most people create generates tensions that must be addressed. This Article presents an argument for broader protection of all creative work, including creative work built upon the work of others. It recognizes that authors exist outside the commercial sphere of the culture industry and that works of authorship, broadly conceived, are built upon the works of others. It is time to demand change to our copyright policy--change that facilitates a type of self-expression that has been mislabeled "user-generated content."

Part I of this Article sketches the evolution of the term "user-generated content" in order to identify the politics inherent in the definition and how technology has changed our relationship with entertainment and information. Part II deconstructs the assumptions behind the term "user-generated content" in order to clarify its political economy. Part III maps the "problem" of user-generated content by focusing on the example of YouTube in order to highlight the flow of ideas that are inherent in culture, and argues that the problem is not the user, but the over-commodification of culture. Part IV offers several recommendations for policy changes, and Part V concludes by arguing that it is time to strike a new balance between commercial interests and the public at large.