Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Carys J. Craig


This dissertation seeks an answer to the question of when open content copyright licences can be most productively used to facilitate the creation and dissemination of cultural expression. Conventional copyright licences emphasize control and the policing of infringing activity. By identifying the circumstances in which open, permissive, and simple-to-understand copyright licensing models can successfully be employed, this dissertation provides a heuristic that articulates when open content licensing can be used to help foster creativity, dialogic collaboration and iterative cultural expression. Using communicative copyright, an account inspired by the relational author approach of Carys Craig, as a theoretical framework, this dissertation posits that copyright licensing is best understood not as a mechanism for maximizing monetary returns, but instead as a mechanism for increasing creative participation and communication among community members. Employing the insights of the communicative account, and synthesizing the work of scholars from a range of disciplines, this dissertation sets forth a comprehensive definition for open content copyright licences and identifies a matrix of success indicia for the use of such licences, arrayed in sets of characteristics categorized by whether they pertain to the licensor, the work, the community, and the market. At the heart of this research project is a case study of the use of the Open Game License (OGL) in connection with the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game and how that licensing model has resulted in a vibrant community that creates, remixes and shares open content. The fieldwork for this research project uses a qualitative empirical method in the form of semi-structured interviews with role-playing game publishers and players, along with content analysis of online statements regarding the use of the OGL, such as those found in interviews, blog posts, forum posts and comments. The findings of the fieldwork portion affirm the explanatory power of the communicative copyright account, and in turn yield an emphasis on the critical nature of the community-constitutive role of open content copyright licences. Open content copyright licences can be most productively used when licensors are committed to nurturing and facilitating a community of creatively-engaged consumers.


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