Submissions:2019/Teaching Intellectual Property Law with Wikipedia

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This submission has been accepted for WikiConference North America 2019.


Teaching Intellectual Property Law with Wikipedia



Type of session:



This presentation will focus on using Wikipedia in university undergraduate classroom assignments to teach the practicalities of copyright law and the politics of intellectual property in the humanities and social sciences. Incorporating these conversations into humanities and social sciences classrooms is essential when we ask students to produce intellectual work in public access spaces like Wikipedia, which is increasingly becoming the norm.

The presentation has three parts.

First, I will advocate for the analytic and practical importance of teaching students about copyright law, licensing, and intellectual property. Students cannot understand their relationship to the material that they author without recognizing the societal nexus that has produced legal and social structures around ownership of one’s own creative expression. Their understanding of these structures shapes the ways in which they engage with other authors’/creators’ materials in the production of their own. The intangibility of intellectual property makes it a productive lens through which students can question the values associated with creation and ownership.

Second, I will present strategies for how to use Wikipedia editing and authoring assignments as a means of opening conversations and encouraging critical thinking about intellectual property with students. Starting with the oft-ignored text at the bottom of the webpage, “Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply”, students can learn to notice how the legal structures of ownership, rights, and licensing already shape their daily digital interactions. Following this step requires introducing students to the strictures of copyright, while it also presents a chance to discuss licensing frameworks that one can use to share their work. Students must then be encouraged to reflect on how use rights and licensing shape their access to material and ability to create new material. Building off of past experiences of having students examine Wikipedia’s citation rules, I will talk about how I have since incorporated exercises around how to abide by Image Use Policies in order to understand how copyright dictates the legal and illegal use of images. In particular I will highlight how to run a “copyright-mystery-hunt” exercise.

Third, I will discuss some past successes and failures in the execution of these learning discovery assignments. Pedagogy is a constant work-in-progress. I will address how students have responded to the idea of their homework and other assignments being made publicly available in the first place and how introducing these questions through the familiar platform of Wikipedia helped them determine their own desires for licensing and sharing practices for their writings and digital humanities projects.

Academic Peer Review option:


Author name:

Kit Heintzman

E-mail address:

Wikimedia username:


Affiliated organization(s):

Harvard University

Estimated time:

15-20 minutes

Preferred room size:

Special requests:

Have you presented on this topic previously? If yes, where/when?:


If your submission is not accepted, would you be open to presenting your topic in another part of the program? (e.g. lightning talk or unconference session)