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How Culture Can Inform Information Policy

Videography, Editing and Writing by Luke Taylor, Natalie Plumb, Bryan Bello and Kenneth Merrill

Visiting Scholar, Julie Cohen

Legal scholarship lacks a framework for cultural practices, and consequently actual user experiences, that should inform information policy. Just as copyright law is configured to encourage the creation of culture, scholar Julie Cohen argues that the regimes governing information access and use need to take into account how the role of culture shapes social practices online.

Cohen, a professor of law at Georgetown University, spoke at American University as part of the Center’s Visiting Scholar Series. According to Cohen, the user experience models currently used in information policy (including intellectual property and information privacy) are too narrow. More informed definitions based on actual social practices are necessary and essential to understanding certain relationships, such as those between copyright, creativity and culture.

One such measurement exists in the 1969 Supreme Court ruling, Brandenburg v. Ohio, in which the law of defamation should seek to accommodate the protection of one's reputation, while allowing for "breathing space" for the First Amendment to operate freely. Cohen sees this "breathing space" (or what she calls "semantic discontinuity") as integral to freedom in the information age.

For more on semantic discontinuity and Cohen’s book, Configuring the Networked Self: Law, Code and the Play of Everyday Practice, you can watch her talk in its entirety through the Center’s YouTube channel.