First Monday

Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt

The development of Web 2.0 led to celebratory accounts about its potential to unleash human creativity. A consensus emerged that described Web 2.0 creative production as universal, democratic, communal, non-commercial, and thoroughly revolutionary. This consensus viewed young, web-savvy media makers as Web 2.0 creativity’s avant-garde: a new generation of producers, born digital, who had upended Romantic notions of creativity, authorship, ownership and related cultural practices. In this paper I draw from a multi-year ethnographic study of young creators’ use of the web from 2007 through 2010 and examine the practice and rhetoric of theft and sharing on DeviantArt, a self-described social network and community of artists. I argue that rather than overturning traditional notions of creativity, participating in DeviantArt helped young creators reaffirm traditional notions of creativity tied to the moral rights of authors to control the distribution of their work. I also demonstrate how these young media makers in turn shaped Web 2.0 ideology and technologies in practice. Seemingly well-established features for “sharing” content were actually uneasy compromises that supported multiple interpretations rather than epitomize the new era of creativity promised by the creativity consensus. These compromises reproduced Web 2.0 in everyday practice.


The Web 2.0 creativity consensus
Sharing and Web 2.0 creativity
Critique of the consensus
Digital natives: A new hope?
DeviantArt: Between corporation, community, and art
DeviantArt’s Share Wars
Reaffirming authorship
Practice: A critical path forward




In early 2012, some of the most prominent internet companies at the time helped defeat two related pieces of legislation that had been making their way through the United States Congress. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) had been introduced the previous year with the stated goal of promoting “prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation by combatting the theft of U.S. property” through a number of complex new provisions [1]. More than 7,000 companies, including Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Tumblr — the poster children of Web 2.0 — either went dark or promoted links in opposition to the bills [2].

A main oppositional cry was that these bills would “break the internet.” For example, Lemley, et al. (2011) argued that SOPA and PIPA threatened to break the technical, economic, and commercial infrastructure that were roots of internet-enabled creativity. Public commentators noted that SOPA and PIPA would also break the ideological underpinnings of the internet, or, as Mike Mesnick wrote in the blog Techdirt, the “belief in trust and sharing that is the internet ... .” [3] The bills were “an attack on the fundamental belief system.” As it turned out, both sides in the SOPA/PIPA debates implicitly agreed that SOPA would indeed change the ideological, not just the technical, make-up of the internet. Their arguments featured a range of assumptions and beliefs about how “the internet” — and by extension the web — “worked” in the first place. The outcome, each side argued, would have crucial implications for a particular depiction of creativity that was central to claims made about the changes to the media landscape associated with the label Web 2.0. For one side the internet had been a system for “piracy” whereas for the other it was for “sharing.”

The rise of the technologies and ideology that were grouped under the label Web 2.0 led to a framing of creativity that celebrated Web 2.0’s potential to unleash human creativity and run in opposition to the industrial, corporate creativity that had dominated the twentieth century. An emergent “creativity consensus” described and theorized Web 2.0 creative production as universal, democratic, communal, non-commercial, and thoroughly revolutionary (e.g., Benkler, 2006; Jenkins, 2006; Shirky, 2010, 2008). Dovetailing with a separate discourse on the rise of digital natives (e.g., Prensky 2011, 2001; Palfrey and Gasser, 2011, 2008), the creativity consensus depicted the avant garde of Web 2.0 creativity as young, web-savvy media makers. Having grown up with digital tools of content production and distribution, these media makers had embraced new technology and upended traditional notions of creativity and related cultural practices. In place of Romantic notions of ownership, property, and rights as authors, they had help usher in a new era of creativity rooted in community and sharing. In short, there seemed to be a parsimonious formula underlying these particular claims: New Technologies + New Generation → New Cultural Practices and Conceptions of Creativity.

In this paper, I argue that these young media makers produced Web 2.0 ideology and technologies in practice, rather than be determined by them. Rather than upending traditional notions of creativity, Web 2.0 platforms helped young creators reaffirm, rather than override, old Romantic notions of creativity tied to the moral rights of authors to control the distribution of their work. To make these arguments, I draw from a multi-year ethnographic study of young creators’ use of the web from 2007 to 2010, during the height of Web 2.0 (Perkel, 2011). At the center of my fieldwork was an investigation of a web site called DeviantArt ( As I will show, DeviantArt’s features, users, practices — even its underlying tensions — embodied the label “Web 2.0” and the elements on the left side of the above formula.

I focus my analysis on a site-wide conflict in 2009 that came to be known as the “Share Wars.” I show how seemingly well-established Web 2.0 features for “sharing” content could actually embody uneasy compromises that supported multiple interpretations and ideological positions rather than symbolize the new era of creativity promised by the creativity consensus. Uses of the web that some saw as fundamental to how Web 2.0 technologies simply “work” were contingent on social practice. Everyday people, young people included, grappled with the question of “how the web works” as a part of their everyday lives. In asking and answering this question, they helped produce Web 2.0 rather than merely react to it. Adrian Johns (2009) argued that at stake in fights over intellectual property and piracy was always “the nature of the relationship we want to uphold between creativity, communication, and commerce”. To participants in DeviantArt, at stake in the Share Wars were the future of the site and the role of the web in their creative practice.



The Web 2.0 creativity consensus

When I began fieldwork in 2007, celebratory claims about Web 2.0 — from academics, journalists, and the general public — had reached their height. Various writers used terms such as “co-creative labour” (Banks and Deuze, 2009), “prosumption” (Beer and Burrows, 2010), “pro-am” (Leadbeater and Miller, 2004), and “produsage” (Bruns, 2008, 2007) to signal changes to the relationship between people and organizations in how media products were created, distributed, and used. As Michael Zimmer (2008) noted, Web 2.0 was said to “to empower creativity, to democratize media production, and to celebrate the individual while also relishing the power of collaboration and social networks.” Inspired by Kreiss, et al. (2011), I describe this framing of creative production as the Web 2.0 creativity consensus [4]. I draw primarily from key texts by several influential academics and public intellectuals whose writings exemplified these perspectives: Yochai Benkler (2006), Henry Jenkins (2006), and Clay Shirky (2010, 2008).

There were three main elements of this consensus. First, the web democratized creativity. New technologies lowered “barriers to participation,” providing “new channels for publicity and distribution” [5]. Everyone could become a content producer, thanks to ”the Button Marked ‘Publish’” [6]. Finally, the technologies that undergird the new “networked information economy” helped create a culture in which “all persons ... help shape the world of ideas and symbols in which they live” (Benkler, 2006), a realization of a vision of “semiotic democracy” [7].

Second, emergent forms of creative production were social, collective, and most importantly, anchored in community. Community formation online had enhanced traditional grassroots creativity (Jenkins, 2006). Shirky argued that “social production” represented an “increase in our ability to create things together, to pool our free time and particular talents into something useful” and, in turn was “one of the new opportunities of the age, one that changes the behaviors of people who take advantage of it” [8]. User-generated content — one of the key elements of Web 2.0 creativity — was a “group phenomenon” rather than an individual one: “not a personal theory of creative capabilities but a social theory of media relations” [9]. Technology-enabled creativity was tightly connected with “generosity” and “sharing” (Shirky, 2010).

Finally, the consensus argued that this democratized creativity, anchored in community, was sparked by non-commercial motivations and distinct from the commercial sphere. A widely cited OECD report listed “creation outside of professional routines and practises” as a core characteristic of user-generated content (UGC) [10]. Similarly, Benkler and Shirky depicted an opposition of “market” and “non-market” motivations and rewards (or “money” and “social-psychological rewards”). As individual motivations and rewards were said to be non-commercial, the nature of the broader endeavor was as well. Not only was UGC “social,” it was an “amateur” phenomenon “with no professionals in sight” [11]. In Benkler’s account the social, collaborative, and non-market production of information goods was “radically decentralized,” displacing (but not replacing) the “centralized, market-oriented production” that dominated the twentieth century. The two modes were markedly distinct.



Sharing and Web 2.0 creativity

The term sharing brought these aspects of the creativity consensus together. Nicolas John (2012) has argued that sharing became a cultural keyword during this period in relation to Web 2.0 and it covered a wide variety of meanings (see also Kennedy, 2015). The everyday use of the word on these sites incorporated sharing in two senses: as communication (“sharing our feelings or emotions”) and as distribution (sharing things). Facebook’s early self-description with its current mission, illustrates the difference and conflation of these two senses. In its early years, Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg described Facebook as a “social utility” for “sharing information” [12]. The company’s mission today is to “empower people to share” and “share and express what matters to them,” both which could refer to either sense [13].

Yet even when looking narrowly at sharing as distribution, the term was overloaded in the Web 2.0 creativity consensus’ accounts. Benkler (2006, 2004) a model of the social production of goods in which the sharing of material resources — such as computing power — is a central aspect and crucial differentiating factor from traditional market production. The foundation of community and collective action, according to Shirky (2008), was in sharing information. Lawrence Lessig (2008) described much of the activity online at that time as a part of a “sharing economy,” in which something other than money mediated the exchange of goods and resources (see also Shirky, 2010). These sharing economies have persisted, Lessig argued, despite the commercialization of the web, even thriving in various hybrid forms [14]. There were even claims of people “unknowingly sharing” information with organizations like Google with each search they conduct [15]. Sharing in these accounts ranged widely from gift giving to the use of common resources to volunteerism to spreading the news to the exchange of family photographs.

While the meaning of sharing slips in this theorizing and celebrating of Web 2.0, what do not slip are the term’s positive connotation [16]. Digging a bit further into Raymond Williams’ classic Keywords adds an instructive layer to John’s (2012) suggestion that “sharing” be included. According to Williams, what distinguishes “community” as a term from terms used to describe “all other terms of social organization” is that community “seems never to be used unfavorably,” thus giving it a “warmly persuasive” connotation [17]. The word “feels good” (Bauman in Pentzold, 2010). The Web 2.0 creativity consensus rested on arguments about the nature and significance of user-created content anchored in a set of “warmly persuasive” terms: community, participatory, social, and collaboration. Sharing was another warmly persuasive word to add to the list.



Critique of the consensus

The SOPA/PIPA debate and the Web 2.0 creativity consensus shared an explicit recognition of the internet and web as ideological constructs, rather than simply technological ones. Indeed, early waves of critical accounts of Web 2.0, including those in this journal (Zimmer, 2008; Allen, 2008), noted that the term corresponded to a diverse set of technological and ideological changes in the media landscape due in part to the growing importance of the internet, the web, and co-evolving business models and social practices. “Social media,” the term that grew in popularity as Web 2.0 declined, similarly fused technical descriptions with ideological connotations (Schäfer, 2011).

Though the consensus’ views of Web 2.0 creativity and sharing were (and still are) widely regarded, critical perspectives of Web 2.0 challenged different aspects of them. One target was the revolutionary underpinnings of many of these claims. Framing internet and web use as “participatory” had a long-standing history (Schäfer, 2011). Those who saw a possible return to the utopian, communalist, and democratic ideals of early internet designers and users (Turner, 2006) embraced the rhetoric of Web 2.0 (Allen, 2008). Thus, Web 2.0 signaled a new opportunity to reframe an old position. Similarly, idealization of democratized creativity also has a long history (Johns, 2009). But the crucial difference was how the internet and Web 2.0 could be framed as developments in which “moral commitments and practices,” that corresponded to ideals of participation and democratization “now seem inextricable from the technologies” [18]. Finally, while hybrid terms such as “prosumer” and “produser” evoked a new positioning of consumers and users as media producers, there has been a long tradition in media scholarship that has looked at “active audiences” (van Dijck, 2009). According to this perspective, the viewing habits of media “consumers” prior to the internet were more active and engaged than conventional wisdom presumed [19].

Critics also highlighted problems with the commercial/non-commercial distinctions of the creativity consensus. Some pointed to the fallacies of labeling the motivations that Benkler (2006) grouped under “social production” and the production of user-created content as non-market or non-commercial (e.g., Banks and Deuze, 2009; van Dijck and Nieborg, 2009; Kreiss, et al., 2011; Scholz, 2008). Empirical studies of MySpace Music (Suhr, 2009) and YouTube (Burgess and Green, 2009) indicated the presence of content backed by financial motivations and rewards (whether posted by corporate entities or freelance creators). Even if not all contributed content came with a financial motivation or reward (e.g., Ito, 2010), content creators often relied on distribution platforms (as well as production tools) governed by commercial entities. In other words, such activity was operating in a largely commercial economic sphere rather than a conceptually distinct sphere of non-market activity. As Greg Goldberg argued, “participation is a commercial act. Every instance of participation involves a transfer of data which has been economized” [20].

Not only was the distinction between commercial and non-commercial spheres problematic, so was the easy alignment between “commons and commerce” and that between communities’ and corporate interests [21]. Corporate participants in these sites of activity — whether media companies or people who manage the technology platforms — hoped to make money on creators’ and users’ efforts. User-created content could be seen as a form of “free labor” (Terranova, 2000) that corporations can and do appropriate and exploit (Jarrett, 2008; Schäfer, 2011; Scholz, 2008; Silver, 2008). When the notion of “participatory culture” was used to refer to a separate sphere of activity as “commercial culture” (Jenkins, 2006; Benkler, 2006) it made it easy to overlook these aspects of everyday content production.



Digital natives: A new hope?

Despite all of these reasons to challenge the Web 2.0 creativity consensus, the introduction of a new generation of savvy media makers could, theoretically, reinvigorate the central thesis. David Silver (2008), who was otherwise deeply skeptical about the claims made about Web 2.0, wrote that there was “hope” in a new “writable generation”:

A generation of young people who think of media as something they read and something they write ... . a generation of content creators, a generation of young people who with the help of Web 2.0 tools know how to create content, how to share content, and how to converse about content ... . This is a new generation with new writeable behaviors and it’s hard not to be hopeful about that.

Such hopes in an otherwise critical text echoed claims of a “net generation” (Tapscott, 1998), “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001), and people “born digital” (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008) that were developing in concert with claims about Web 2.0 creativity. In short, a new generation of the population had grown up immersed in a world of digital technology and the combination of the two would either result in radical changes or the need for such changes to keep up. The argument for a digital generation is, therefore, a combination of technological and generational determinism. New generations armed with new technologies have a unidirectional impact on society and culture.

Scholars from communications, sociology, and anthropology have raised significant challenges to these claims both theoretically and empirically. A number of studies of children, teenagers, and young adults revealed considerable differences in their experiences, whether based on race, class, geography socio-economic status, interests and social identity, and other factors (Bennett, et al., 2008; Bennett and Maton, 2011; Buckingham, 2006; Hargittai and Walejko, 2008; Hargittai and Hinnant, 2008; Hargittai, 2010; Helsper and Eynon, 2010; Ito, et al., 2010; Jones, 2010; Livingstone and Helsper, 2007; Selwyn, 2003; Thomas, 2011). Simply put, claims for a universal digital generation are as untenable as the claims for the homogenous categories of “youth” or “digital technology” upon which they are founded.

Still, the notion of a digital generation remained (and remains) a powerful and persistent force (Bennett and Maton, 2011; Jones, 2010). The lens of creativity helped sustain the argument in a more focused form. Palfrey and Gasser (2011) justified the term “digital native” in a modified guise: digital natives were a “population, and not a generation, of young people who use technology in relatively advanced ways” [22]. Two of the core characteristics of this population were participating in social network sites to express identity and creating media rather than consuming it. According to the authors, these activities were cornerstones of “new media literacies” (Jenkins, et al., 2009). As Lawrence Lessig (2007) argued:

These tools of creativity have become tools of speech ... a literacy for this generation. This is how our kids speak. It is how our kids think; it is what your kids are as they increasingly understand digital technologies and their relationship to themselves (see also Lessig, 2008).

Echoing, Silver’s “hope”, Palfrey and Gasser [23] wrote: “Creativity is the upside of this brave new world of digital media. ... The most creative are interacting with news, works of entertainment, and other information that were unimaginable a few years ago” [emphasis mine]. Similarly, others referred to this specific population as “Generation C” (Bruns, 2008, 2007), where the “C” stood for “content creation,” sometimes extended to “creativity” (Kalmus, et al., 2009). This generation contributed to the “the ongoing demise of many beliefs, rituals, formal requirements, and laws modern societies have held dear” [24]. Readily breaking and thwarting these beliefs, rituals, and laws were simply a part of emergent literacy (Palfrey and Gasser, 2008; Lessig, 2007).

Most of these arguments were theoretical, often anecdotal, with very little empirical investigation of actual practice. According to the logic of these arguments, if there were any group of people with whom to investigate claims made about Web 2.0 and user-created content, it would be these young “creators” using new web technologies in their media-production practices — the kinds of participants using the kinds of digital features as those found on DeviantArt.



DeviantArt: Between corporation, community, and art

During the time of my fieldwork, DeviantArt described itself as “the world’s largest online community of artists” [25]. With respect to its features and functionality, the site epitomized Web 2.0. Anyone with access to the internet could set up a profile of themselves, upload almost any type of visual work, post to online journals (like blogs), follow others’ work, comment on each other’s art and writing, and socialize through comment threads, forums, and chat rooms. The bulk of the site’s members were relatively young, either teenagers or young adults still relatively early in their artistic careers.

DeviantArt encompassed a wide variety of overlapping art worlds (Becker, 1982) [26]. The site embraced a broadly inclusive and pluralistic notion of art. It accepted almost any form, genre, and style of visual media, covering any subject matter. It hosted and displayed photography, painting, illustration, video, animation, comics, graphic design, user interface design, fashion, customization for software, prose, poetry, and even fonts or other digital media to be included within other work (referred to as “resources”). Alongside this diversity of media were different worlds of commercial art, fine art, popular art, and niche hobbies to name a few.

The site was funded by a for-profit company. Like many of its contemporary web sites, DeviantArt drenched itself in the language of community. As Jennifer Cool (2008) observed, attempts to merge corporation and community in internet-related organizations were a key feature and tension of Web 2.0. DeviantArt’s leaders worked diligently to reconcile and continually calibrate the site’s desire to be profitable and to be in continuous service to the millions of users. DeviantArt relied heavily on numerous volunteers to help manage the everyday activity on the site in service and to be a “community voice” for the site’s members [27].

Just as important, DeviantArt’s members and its staff were trying to be a community of artists. They described the site as an “art community” and in debates about practice frequently returned to assumptions of what “art” was really about to support their positions. The introduction of art into this mix complicates the tension between corporation and community. The site’s openness to a wide variety of work aligned with DeviantArt’s profit-seeking goals and also spoke to an ideal of inclusivity. Yet, it was clear that many of the site’s members worked to retain elements of exclusivity in their efforts to establish DeviantArt as distinct from sites like Facebook and MySpace not simply because of the nature of its commercial activity but because of sensibilities regarding the nature of artistic practice. The tensions between DeviantArt as company, community, and art community all come to the surface in the analysis of the Share Wars that follows.




The research material below came from three years of participant-observation on DeviantArt and a variety of other physical and online sites as well as from interviews with site members, staff, and others. Building on a then-emergent body of literature of digital ethnography, I took on a “multi-sited” approach (Marcus, 1995) [28]. DeviantArt was, on the one hand, a “strategically situated single-site,” where “what goes on within a particular locale in which research is conducted is ... calibrated with its implication for what goes on in another related locale, or other locales” [29]. It was also a strategically situated entry point (Burrell, 2009) into a network of sites and relationships [30]. My approach also included bringing an “ethnographic sensibility” [31] to a critical analysis of technologies and symbolic objects. As Coleman [32] suggests, “to assess more richly the cultural and political life of digital media, [researchers] must attend to the role of social and technical protocols, infrastructure, and platforms.”

I established a presence on DeviantArt for several years, contributing to it in various ways, and connecting with other members using all of the communication mechanisms the site made available. As the research continued, I also spent time in other places: with different groups of artists at small meet-ups, at fan conventions, and within “Artist Alleys” — physical places where artists could show their work and connect with each other, audiences, and customers. I also visited the DeviantArt headquarters and interviewed several key leaders, including its CEO and co-founder Angelo Sotira. In line with ethical guidelines, I was as transparent as I could be about the fact that I had joined DeviantArt in order to conduct research [33]. I posted journal entries on the site about my study that I updated over time based on questions from participants. I made sure to include links back to this writing whenever I could in my communication with participants.

Over the course of the study, I used DeviantArt for roughly 300 days, for about three to four hours on each of those days. I attended over a dozen in-person meet-ups and conducted participant observation in Artist Alleys at 10 conventions. I spent almost 400 hours conducting participant observation off-line. Finally, I conducted 30 formal interviews and many more conversations on DeviantArt, over IM, and at meets and conventions.



DeviantArt’s Share Wars

Visitors to DeviantArt today may hardly notice several mundane features that would allow them to repost a submission or link back to it on sites such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or Pinterest [34]. In August 2009 versions of these features appeared on DeviantArt and were grouped, for the first time, under the label “Share.” There was a text field that contained a bit of HTML and CSS code that made it easier for people to “embed” the image on another site [35]. There were small buttons that, when clicked, enabled the placement of links to and thumbnails of the submitted work on those other sites. These buttons relied on the emergence of application programming interfaces (APIs), which allowed different web services to connect and pass data between them. Finally, DeviantArt included an additional link to that piece of work that relied on a shorter alternative URL (see Figure 1).


DeviantArt Share Tools in 2009
Figure 1: DeviantArt’s Share Tools in 2009.


In many ways, these “Share Tools” (as they came to be called) were as unremarkable in 2009 as they are in 2016. DeviantArt had already provided similar functionality to what the new tools offered. But there were key differences. Whereas earlier functionality had been optional, the ones that launched in 2009 were not. They were also visually separated on the page and framed differently: some for “blogging,” others for “promoting.” The new tools combined old and new features under one conceptual frame of sharing in a clean, user-friendly manner. This new design more closely aligned DeviantArt with web design practices elsewhere at the time [36]. One might reasonably assume that by August 2009, when DeviantArt’s Share Tools launched, they would be easily accepted as extensions of conventional and standard practice.

Within days of the launch of the new Share Tools, however, widespread conflict had broken out — “Share Wars,” as one member dubbed them. Over the next six weeks various camps emerged. Some people applauded them as bringing DeviantArt up to date. Others simply wanted them to be optional. And finally, a vocal group saw them as posing serious threats to their artistic practice and to DeviantArt as a community.

The art of theft

Two conversations dominated the negative reaction to the Share Tools. One concerned the extent to which the new tools impacted site members’ ability to control the circulation of their work. As a prominent early voice in the conflict saw it the features meant “a loss of control to all of us”: “Part of the appeal for using dA is control — control over what goes where ... . Artists on the site should not lose editorial control of who, how, and where their work gets displayed” (fieldnotes). Another vocal participant in the early part of the debate was concerned over the control of her identity. She was a professional teacher, but her creative outlet through DeviantArt was to pose as a model. She saw her use of DeviantArt as a calculated but personally valuable risk. Encouraging the “sharing” of her work greatly upset whatever calculus she used to decide whether to continue.

The second conversation concerned the extent to which the new tools promoted theft. With the launch of the new Share Tools, many claimed that DeviantArt had made it easier for others to steal their work. Throughout my fieldwork, so-called art theft was a widespread concern. As one teenager told me, “[Theft] is definitely a very hot topic. Every artist that I watch on DeviantArt ... every single one of them has had their work stolen and used by someone else” (interview). Understanding the fear of theft and the threat it posed to members is critical to understanding the concerns over control and to unraveling the bitter conflict and consequences that came with these seemingly conventional features.

There was no consensus — and some outright disagreement — as to what actions were tantamount to theft. I identified three interdependent dimensions: requiring permission, expecting credit, and making a profit. One member of the site told me that she simply defined art theft as “reproducing a work without permission” regardless of credit (fieldnotes). DeviantArt’s own policy and recommendations at the time seemed to support this position. The extensive FAQ for the site said that members have to have “written permission from the proper and legal owner of any work which you wish to use” [37]. Yet other members weren’t as restrictive. Some felt that as long as people didn’t claim credit for a piece of work nor made money from its use, then the use of that work wasn’t theft. As one widely popular artist wrote in a discussion about the topic: “When it comes to MY art, go ahead and make icons/wallpapers/forum sigs/layouts/RP characters [role-playing characters]/whatever of it without asking me because I really, truly don’t care. :)” (fieldnotes). In between these views were others who were very concerned about permission as an important ethical courtesy. For example, a member described a situation in which he wanted to use someone’s work posted to DeviantArt for a high school project. Even though he felt it was “legal under fair use,” asking for permission was simply the right thing to do: “Usually people like to know if you are going to re-purpose their work. I know I would like to be notified” (interview).

This member also told me he was careful to provide credit to the other DeviantArt member. Many members expected others to give credit even if they used someone else’s work without permission [38]. Norms of crediting went beyond reposting work elsewhere or remixing others’ work. Site participants also credited inspiration that they referenced (such as imitating a pose or a gesture), tutorials they used, and other member-provided resources. Members saw these forms of credit as helping boost the reputation and recognition of the creators of the source material. These acknowledgments emphasized the intricate social dimensions of credit that went beyond putting down a name (Monroy-Hernández and Hill, 2010; Monroy-Hernández, et al., 2011).

Beyond requiring permission and expecting credit was the question of using work commercially. Even one of the most permissive of artists I encountered described the selling of her work for profit without her permission as theft. The threat of artwork ending up on products that are sold either online or in retail stores was seen as very real. As one teenage member told me she had stopped posting her photography to the site because she had seen her own pictures and those of others “ripped ... as in stolen,” posted on another sites, reused into icons, banners for web sites, backgrounds on MySpace profiles, commercially published book covers, and even the packaging for an adult DVD [39]. Indeed, a year into fieldwork, I was hardly surprised by stories about a person on eBay or a retail store selling DeviantArt members’ artwork on products such as coffee mugs, notebooks, dog tags, card decks, or mouse pads. DeviantArt’s members were acutely aware of the vulnerabilities and possible illicit commercial exploitation that came with posting their work to the site.

Yet, while making money from someone else’s work was the most important criterion for some definitions of theft, for others it was secondary. One leader of the stock photography community wrote about a situation in which her work had been used as a banner on a web site. She directed readers’ attention to the justification of the site owner: he was “not making any profit” from this web site. This line incited particular anger from this member and her network on DeviantArt. Whether the site owner was making a profit was not the point: re-use in this fashion violated her specific terms of use. “Making a profit” is thus not so much a financial number as a moral one [40]. Whereas Benkler (2006) may be correct in asserting the potential for the “greater scope for non-market action” possible through the web, it is this scope that helps exacerbate a moral problem for many everyday media creators. Thus, the number of making money from someone else’s work (“commercial” versus “non-commercial” uses), though seemingly straightforward, is actually quite complicated. All three dimensions — requiring permission, providing or expecting credit, and making a profit — interacted in situationally specific ways.

DeviantArt’s official position tried to frame the discussion of theft in a legal context [41]. Rather than theft (of art) the company focused on infringement (of copyright). In this view, “theft” was wrong because it was a violation of copyright law. Yet members seemed to generally see it differently. Copyright was not the reason that theft was wrong; it was evidence that it was wrong. Despite the diversity of DeviantArt members’ positions on theft, what they had in common was a belief that theft was a moral violation and that, ultimately, individuals had the moral right to set the terms for the use for their work. What makes an act “theft” to some is the moral transgression of the artist’s own rules. Or put differently, the power of an artist to set the terms of use is what many saw as the rule that brought all artists together.

These moral underpinnings of the rights of an artist as author and creator have their roots in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Romantic thought, at a time where the distribution systems, economics, and social practices of reading and writing books were undergoing significant transformations (Hesse, 2002; Woodmansee, 1994). The century-long development of copyright in England was one critical response to these changes (Rose, 1993). It encapsulated and elevated a revised legal definition of authorship based on a new notion of intellectual property of the writer (Hesse, 2002; Woodmansee, 1994) [42]. It was also during this time where a unified notion of “art” first emerged (Williams, 1960; Woodmansee, 1994). A crucial element of this Romantic conception of art was the philosophical separation of the art object from the market that facilitated its distribution and from the audience for the work. This separation of “art” from both audience and a commercial market or value constituted the idea of “art for art’s sake” (Bourdieu, 1993; Woodmansee, 1994). Art was solely the result of the author/artist who through his original efforts created work in which he had legal and moral rights (see also Foucault, 1984).

According to Johns (2009), it was not until quite recently that theft (or “piracy”) could be a legal crime that could occur in the home in non-commercial uses [43]. Yet there had been a long history of trying to shut down such activities — going back to attempts to raid homes for sheet music, shut down “pirate listeners” of radio, and illicit connent tapers — that were all couched in moral language. Many of the participants I observed in this study inherited and reproduced the argument: those who violate their rules are committing a moral crime, not a commercial one.

The prevalent view on DeviantArt — and in the other contexts I conducted research — was that violating an artist’s rules was a violation of the artist herself. As one person told me, her first encounter seeing her work re-posted and claimed by someone else felt “soul destroying.” She lamented “having all of your hard work just taken in the blink of an eye and having it made almost irrelevant by somebody who just doesn’t really give a damn” (interview). The exchange between effort of creation and effortlessness in making that work “irrelevant” was immoral. Theft was a direct assault on the person. Another member took this point further: The “real damage of art theft isn’t how it cheats the artist” (fieldnotes). Rather, the problem lies in how it “demoralizes the artist” and “keeps people from sharing their art or making more, or putting the effort in ... .” Art theft was an assault on one’s identity as an artist. This demoralization was a part of the immoral nature of the act.

Asserting control over work was certainly an attempt to protect against exploitation and misappropriation of work. At a deeper level, though, it was an attempt to assert control over one’s creative identity. As Natalie Heinich argues vocational activities and professions “rely on the strong implication of personhood in one’s work” [44]. And in the face of the specter of theft, DeviantArt members tried various tactics to combat or prevent theft and assert control over their work and their identities. These ranged from stock photographers’ personal Terms of Use, watermarking, or even warnings. Some members used the provided space for comments under their submissions to ward off would-be thieves [45]. They formed vigilante groups that harassed alleged art thieves on and off DeviantArt. For some, then, the web provided the means to assert more control than one might have in a different venue by providing space for terms of use and by providing others with the ability to follow these terms.

How things work: Share tools, the internet, and art communities

With this context in mind, it was less surprising to me to see resistance to the Share Tools couched in arguments about both control and theft. But it was the emphasis on theft that turned hostility to new features into six weeks of bitter conflict. Staff and members alike argued vociferously that DeviantArt was not promoting theft. To suggest that they were encouraging such a transgressive practice was a personal and professional insult. As DeviantArt’s CEO wrote: “The idea that DeviantArt would take direct action to help others steal your work or encourage this sort of behavior is not acceptable to us. It is offensive to us. It is a contradiction of our core mission; many of us are artists ourselves ...” (fieldnotes). This side of the conflict also rejected the claims that the features had taken away control from members. In fact, they argued the exact opposite: these features should help combat theft and assert more control in part by guaranteeing credit and a link back to their work. These oppositional points of view illuminated divisions in members’ understanding of how the tools, the internet, and an art community all “worked,” technically and ideologically.

From the outset there clearly was confusion about what the new features did and the implications of their functionality for ownership and rights over the material. Many people did not understand the buttons and their reliance on APIs. Several asked pointed questions about the consequences of using these buttons, such as “What is the written policy/agreement with these other web sites on this share tool?” (fieldnotes). Another asked about a possible financial relationship: “What does [DeviantArt] get/pay for this sharing option? ... Are fees exchanged for this share linking?” (fieldnotes). People wondered whether the Share Tools gave a site like Facebook some rights to the content. The terms of service on Facebook seemed to do just that, claimed some members. Was DeviantArt wittingly or unwittingly ceding control to Facebook? Was either site profiting in some new way that DeviantArt members hadn’t considered? Similarly, DeviantArt’s new URL-shortening tool confused some people. Some thought that this was a URL on another site, as nowhere did the URL include the name “DeviantArt.” This was positioned as proof that DeviantArt had gone against the wishes of its members by reposting work elsewhere under a new identity.

Many members who defended the features, staff included, repeatedly argued that they were “just links.” As links, they were fundamental to the nature of the internet (a point that I return to below). Members taking this stance sometimes disparaged alternate points of view:

URLs should really be removed from this site altogether! (fieldnotes)
Yes of course! Linking is art theft! (fieldnotes)

Other members countered these statements as misrepresenting the technical aspects of the features and the problems people had with them. Equating the Share Tools with “linking” was inaccurate: neither the “embed code” nor the API-enabled buttons were “just links.”

It seems to me that people keep mentioning that it’s like posting a link, but actually it’s NOT at all. Posting a link to a site forces you to go to that site and see for yourself the context in which it was posted in: artistic. Whereas sharing allows you to see the image without going into the site. Many of my friends share videos from YouTube, I just watch them on facebook without needing to see it on YouTube so I can’t see what kind of comments or site it’s coming from, so no it’s not the same. (fieldnotes)

Whether the Share Tools were “just links” also was making a broader point about how the internet works. “It’s the nature of the net,” one person put it. Others were more mocking:

I don’t use a browser to protect my artistic rights. (fieldnotes)
The site should be removed from the internet! (fieldnotes)
There’s vast misunderstanding about the basics of how the interwebs works. (fieldnotes)

But these “misunderstandings” were not just about the internet and links but also about what it meant to post to the web in the first place. Simply put, by the time I was conducting fieldwork, “posting” and “sharing” were, for many, synonymous [46]. As one person noted to a staff member, “If people are worried about their work getting shared ... they shouldn’t, you know, put it on the internet.”

In response to this position, though, some members pointed out that “how the internet works” is quite different depending on what part of the internet one engages with:

Speaking of ‘how the internet works,’ [other sites] allow for various ‘share’ options. All we want is a “yes/no.” And quite ironically Facebook offers a large number of privacy settings for THEIR people. Yet it seems that FB is not so intent on ‘maximizing exposure’ outside the community for those who don’t want that ... Don’t they realize that once they upload to the internet their images are mine mine mine?! Mwhahaha ... [47]

In other words, members recognized that “the” internet is made up of distinct political spaces as much as it might appear to be a unifying technological framework (Morozov, 2013, 2011).

The confusing new connections between sites, the obscure shortened URLs, and whether the share tools were “just links” exposed tensions about the boundaries of DeviantArt as a distinct social space on the web, and indeed, DeviantArt’s very purpose as an art community. DeviantArt’s Director of Community Operations, when questioned as to whether these features would be made optional, replied that she felt that “disabling links goes against everything we stand for” (fieldnotes). Others agreed: the tools improved DeviantArt as community, and “community ... invokes sharing” and “help[ing] each other out” (fieldnotes). DeviantArt’s Share Tools served these community functions.

Yet it was the very boundaries of that community that were challenged by these tools. As noted in the previous section, some felt that links led to contextual shifts, from “artistic” ones to other contexts. DeviantArt, as one person argued, “should remain strongly ring fenced as possible.” “Remain” indicated to me that he saw it as already ring fenced, despite the fact that it was widely accessible to anyone with a web browser. Another member quoted DeviantArt’s own self description as “an online art community for artists and art lovers to interact in a variety of ways” and argued that “The impression *I* get from this is that dA is a self contained community. My artwork posted here is meant for people ON THIS SITE.” According to this logic, DeviantArt’s official position actually meant that sharing broadly might be contrary to DeviantArt’s mission as a community.

This conflict, therefore, was not just about different understandings of community but differences in the purpose of an art community and the place of “sharing” art within it. The Share Tools on DeviantArt were ways for creators to promote and market themselves, to both “share with your friends” and “drive traffic to your work” (fieldnotes). The tools would help DeviantArt’s members build as wide an audience as possible, what DeviantArt’s staff and many of its members saw as the site’s basic purpose. Thus, it didn’t make sense that there would be such an outcry over features that aligned with this goal.

In contrast, not only did many members specifically not want to get noticed by as many people as possible, others specifically rejected goals related to audience size and traffic. To them, this was not what art was all about, echoing the Romantic ideal of “art for art’s sake” rather than art in service of audience and commercial market. If indeed DeviantArt was indeed an art community that shared, it was one of “artists and art lovers” (from the site’s FAQ) that shared with each other, not a wider public. Those who argued that the new tools provided members with more control focused on the technical features to monitor sharing and appropriation of the work. This rationale overlooked the desire to control and monitor threats to one’s identity as artist that was at the heart of many members’ concerns. A senior DeviantArt employee told me that the company “never tries to engage in the question of ‘what is art’” (interview). Yet the question of what was acceptable artistic practice and how an art community should work to support such practice was at the heart of this conflict.

The compromise: Producing DeviantArt and Web 2.0

After six weeks of discussion, debate, insults, threats to leave, artwork removed, and general disruption to the everyday use of the site, DeviantArt’s Director of Marketing announced a resolution: “after deliberation with both staff members and community members,” the features would be optional (fieldnotes). When uploading a submission, members now had new options. They could “Encourage Sharing,” which would enable all of the Share Tools, and “Discourage Sharing” which would disable the Share Tools. But the site designers went further and provided a third option — “DeviantArt Members Only.” This was the first time (as far as I am aware) the site gave members the option of making each piece of work visible exclusively to other DeviantArt members.

This resolution generally seemed to work for those who had objected to the tools. They now had more options, and to some extent, even more control than they had previously. On the other side of the conflict, one person told me that even though he didn’t fully understand the anger over the features, the resolution to the conflict was fair. This sense of justice, in my view, relates back to the widely shared belief that creators have an inherent, natural right to control their work, especially in face of the new threats of appropriation and misappropriation online. For some, the solution contributed to the idea that DeviantArt was an appropriate medium for trying to control one’s work, aligned with the norms of respect for artists’ rights in their work.

Still, the compromise helped to maintain basic arguments on both sides of the conflict. These new options remained under the guise of sharing and strengthened the connection between the rhetoric of sharing with a particular set of technical tools. A web user could go to the site and see submissions that included tools for “sharing,” just like they could on so many other web sites. The internet and web could continue to be seen as an open space for sharing in a manner that some would see as conventional — the way the internet works. At the same time, the compromise reinforced a boundary around DeviantArt as a unique space separate from the rest of the web. Sharing on this site took on a different form than sharing elsewhere. Therefore the compromise maintained, rather than resolved, the friction between ownership, control, and sharing that were already in play. The Share Wars surfaced historical tensions between circulation and control in the practice of art and reproduced a web-related tension between sharing and theft. The compromise ended the Share Wars but did not eliminate the deeper tensions.



Reaffirming authorship

A decade before the coining of “Web 2.0”, influential scholars at the intersection of technology, history, creativity, and the law speculated that the collective nature of authorship on the internet may “reverse the trajectory of print ... assaulting the distinction between mine and thine that modern authorship was designed to enforce” [48]. Perhaps it is the very force of this “assault” that resulted in such a vocal defense on DeviantArt of the “distinction between mine and thine,” a defense couched in the moral language of theft and the assertion of the right ways to use the web to prevent and combat it. It remains far from clear how much the distinction had, in fact, been eroded by Web 2.0. DeviantArt, like other web sites, provided ample space, material means (through links for example), and opportunity to acknowledge other sources — rather than simply use them — and to explicitly point to “mine” and “thine,” all of which may have been otherwise obscure. It may be a paradox of a “remix culture” that claims to authorship and indebtedness to sources are perhaps more important to assert explicitly than they have been before. Rather than living in the age of remix, we may be closer to what Molly Van Houweling (2010) described as the “age of the author” where some feel more empowered to assert a new degree of authorial control over their products. By providing a means to do so, Web 2.0 helped reaffirm traditional cultural practices and conceptions of creativity [49].

At the same time, the Share Wars demonstrates how participants collectively shaped the production of DeviantArt — both its technological and ideological dimensions. And in doing so, they helped shape — with varying degrees of intentionality — the technologies and practices of Web 2.0. Many members of DeviantArt were working to create, or make explicit, norms other than those of “sharing,” which many scholars of the internet suggest are inherent to the medium and a new generation’s use of it. Perhaps, as the Web 2.0 creativity consensus suggested, we were (and still are) on the cusp of a new era of creativity. But such ideologically based assertions were themselves working to bring about the very changes that they described.



Practice: A critical path forward

This analysis of DeviantArt and its Share Wars points to a path forward for a critical approach to Web 2.0 and its descendants, be they social media, the sharing economy, or the next thing. I echo Kennedy’s (2015) call for a renewed emphasis on paying attention to practice. But here I want to emphasize practice in two senses. First, by practice, I am referring to an analysis of people’s on-the-ground activities — what they do and what they say (Schatzki, 1996; see also Couldry, 2004). As critical perspectives of Web 2.0 (and later social media) emerged, scattered studies in various fields demonstrated the power of attention to practice in this sense [50]. The deep tie between the rhetoric of Web 2.0 and the language of “community,” “social,” “collaboration,” and “sharing” did a great deal of ideological work to set up particular oppositions — between everyday people and corporate interests — and overlook others — among users with competing sets of interests and beliefs [51]. It is just as important to understand conflict amongst “ordinary users,” not just between companies and its customers. Analyzing on-the-ground practices should help overcome these blind spots. Observing frictions not simply as the opposition of consumers and producers, or even platform users and designers, but as opposition among users as well, allows Burgess and Green (2009) to anchor their findings in the co-existence of commercial and non-commercial motivations and activities on the site. Also paying attention to everyday practice, Baym and Burnett (2009) show how some Swedish fans of independent music actively and self-consciously “balance ... tensions between empowerment and exploitation” [52].

Second, in a call to study practice, I am also referring to a theoretical approach to social life that sees people’s identities, activities and broader social “structures” as all constitutive of each other (see Dreier, 2008; Giddens, 1979; Lave and Wenger, 1991; Ortner, 1984; Postill, 2010; Reckwitz, 2002; Warde, 2005). These “structures” include technology, historical conventions, ideologies and organizational systems and, perhaps, are better thought of as the infrastructure of everyday life (Star and Ruhleder, 1996; Star and Bowker, 2006). People, in practice, continuously produce this infrastructure. This perspective points to the work required to transform things — material, symbolic, or discursive — into what people come to rely on as infrastructure or maintain them as such.

It’s crucial to look at both what people do and say as well as the specifics of platforms and technologies and then analyze the resulting relationships. Both celebrators and critics of Web 2.0 varied in how much power they ascribe to technology and thus their susceptibility to accusations of technological determinism. Van Dijck and Nieborg [53] rightly point out that “the hidden ‘magic’ of Web 2.0 technologies remained conspicuously unquestioned whether by business gurus or cultural experts.” The problem, according to Mirko Schäfer, is that “Perceiving technology as having appeared out of thin air leads to a moral framing of participatory culture, which results in analyses dwelling excessively on ‘good’ or ‘bad’ consequences” [54]. Thus more attention should be paid to “the specific qualities of the technology ... how features affect both the design and user appropriation” [55]. This call has been taken up already by many seeking to examine what goes on behind the scenes: data models, algorithms, design practices, and so on (e.g., Beer, 2009; Goldberg, 2010). Although I agree it is important to look at the dynamics operating less visibly in the background, I do not want to cede the foreground at the interface. There has been “neglect of the substantial role a site’s interface plays in maneuvering individual users and communities” [56]. As I have shown here, interfaces are powerful resources people use to make normative and moral arguments about “how the web works” in the course of their everyday lives.

Creating knowledge of how the web works is not just an outcome of using the web or theorizing about it. It is a part of what is helping to produce the web in practice, whether theories come from influential academics, technology designers, or everyday users. Both the subjects of social research and scholars conducting analyses construct theories of the world and thus shape the world in practice (Giddens, 1979). This knowledge construction is not always intentional, nor do people always self-consciously build the world or technologies through which they work. But they nevertheless play active roles.




One the pillars of early Web 2.0 hype was its apparent impact on the production, distribution, and consumption of media content. I’ve identified a largely celebratory creativity consensus in some of the most influential writing about Web 2.0 — shaping both public and academic debates — that posited a sweeping set of consequences. Despite a vociferous critique of parts of this view, there still remained a potentially powerful argument: Web 2.0 technologies in the hands of the savviest media producers — a new digital generation of creative practitioners — would be the carriers of sweeping changes to conceptions of creativity and related cultural practices.

This analysis of DeviantArt’s Share Wars sheds new light on such claims. Many of these young, web-savvy media-makers, saw DeviantArt — and the web more broadly — as a means to reproduce a Romantic ideology of authorship and creativity rather than undermine it. To many members this was simply “how art works.” In the Share Wars some members’ understanding of how “art works” came into direct conflict with other members’ understanding of how “the internet works.” The result of these clashes of “working” was the ongoing production of the site: its discursive and material features, its ideologies and technologies.

Finally, I have demonstrated the value of an approach to studying the internet, the web, social media, or whatever the current framing, through the lens of practice. Such everyday practice will demand analysis along the lines I’ve attempted here. Jean Lave, argued, “Social inquiry is always a matter of looking at any object of analysis ... with respect to whatever else we are interested in that makes it what is it” [57]. DeviantArt was a manifestation of how participants established the relationship between art and the web. The web site was not just a product of this relationship: it continued to produce participants’ understanding of art and the web. Through DeviantArt, the “working” of art constituted the “working” of the web and vice versa. If new technologies, business models, and social arrangements continue to be conventionalized and naturalized as simply “working” for sharing or other warmly persuasive purposes, it will be because of continuing technical and ideological work in everyday practice to make it so. End of article


About the author

Dan Perkel is a Design Lead at IDEO, a global design an innovation firm. He earned his Ph.D. from the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.
E-mail: dperkel [at] gmail [dot] com



Thanks to all of the people who opened up their art worlds to me during the course of this research, whether for lengthy interviews, short conversations, or even a quick e-mail message. These include members of DeviantArt, members of Bay Area Artists Unite, and various staff at DeviantArt. I want to thank the anonymous reviewers who provided generous and critical feedback. I also want to acknowledge the help of Jenna Burrell, Nancy Van House, Jean Lave, Megan Finn, Janaki Srinivasan, Christo Sims, Ryan Shaw, and Vivien Petras who provided input to prior versions of this work. Finally, I owe special thanks to Paul Duguid for all of his contributions to this article and the development of the thinking behind it.



1. H.R. 3261 (112th): Stop Online Piracy Act.

2. See, for example, “Wikipedia blackout: 11 huge sites protest SOPA, PIPA on January 18,” Huffington Post (18 January 2012), at, accessed 1 February 2016.

3. “Yes, SOPA breaks The internet: By breaking the belief in trust and sharing that is the internet,” TechDirt, at, last accessed 5 January 2016.

4. Kreiss, et al. (2011) describe a “peer production consensus” that focuses on Benkler’s (2006) theory of social production and to a lesser extent Jenkins’ (2006) account of “convergence culture.” There is overlap with their framing of this consensus and the one I develop here.

5. Jenkins, 2006, p. 152.

6. Shirky, 2010, p. 49.

7. Fiske, 1987; see also Zittrain, 2008, p. 92.

8. Shirky, 2010, p. 119.

9. Shirky, 2008, p. 83–84.

10. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 2007, p. 8.

11. Shirky, 2008, p. 84.

12. See, for example, Facebook’s “About” page from May 2006 (, retrieved from the internet Archive, accessed 3 May 2016) or “An open letter from Mark Zuckerberg” (8 September 2006), at, accessed 3 May 2016.

13. See, accessed on 3 May 2016.

14. Lessig’s language of “sharing economy” here seemed to pre-date the way the same language was used later to describe companies like Uber and Airbnb, though there is clearly a connection. The companies who Lessig presented as his models for “hybrid economies” and the exemplars of the so-called “sharing economy” had in common corporate interests who were able to set up conditions to profit significantly off the labor of users/consumers of their services. These users/consumers in turn, in some cases, able to profit off of the services they were “sharing” with each other. This was not simply a matter of exploitation in the case of the Web 2.0 “hybrid economies” or the later “sharing economies.” A more detailed analysis of this relationship and power, particularly as it pertains to creativity and authorship, is beyond the scope of this article.

15. Shirky, 2008, p. 49.

16. Such connotations are even present in Shirky’s aside about “unknowingly sharing.” He adds, “These users are helping create a communally available resource, as Flickr users are, but unlike Flickr, the people whose work Google is aggregating aren’t actively choosing to make their contributions” (2008, p. 49). Whether knowingly or unknowingly shared, the “communal resources” are positive outcomes.

17. Williams, 1983, p. 76.

18. Johns, 2009, p. 257, emphasis mine.

19. This was a position that differentiated Jenkins’ account from Benkler’s and Shirky’s.

20. Goldberg, 2010, p. 747.

21. van Dijck and Nieborg, 2009, p. 865.

22. Palfrey and Gasser, 2011, p. 188, emphasis mine.

23. Palfrey and Gasser, 2008, p. 132.

24. Bruns, 2007, p. 104.

25. By mid-2010 when I was ending this study, DeviantArt claimed over 14 million members across the world, 35 million unique visitors per month, 67 million daily pageviews, and 1.5 million daily comments. As of 2016, the site claims 38 million registered members — who upload 160,000 submissions per day — and 65 million unique visitors per month (, last accessed 7 May 2016).

26. Ethnographers differ in whether to use the past tense or present tense in describing their field sites during the time of their research. Given the consistent changes in the site, I have elected to refer to DeviantArt in the past tense to clearly demarcate that my study was at a specific time and context. DeviantArt still exists.

27. From the guidelines on how to be a Gallery Moderator on the site.

28. See also Lyman and Wakeford, 1999; Hine, 2005, 2000; Miller and Slater, 2000; Couldry, 2004; Beaulieu, 2004; Markham, 2005; Burrell, 2009; Markham and Baym, 2009; Horst and Miller, 2012.

29. Marcus, 1995, p. 110.

30. I borrowed a variety of tactics for “following” activity across a variety of contexts (Marcus, 1995). These tactics included following people, things, discourses, and conflicts across the multiple pages and sites “within” DeviantArt, other web sites, and other places where DeviantArt members congregated, including fan conventions and meet-ups.

31. Star, 1999, p. 383.

32. Coleman, 2010, p. 491.

33. In this project I followed the Association of Internet Researchers’ (AoIR) ethical guidelines in 2002 and calibrated my research with scholarship that followed (e.g., Hudson and Bruckman, 2004; Markham, 2005; Bruckman, et al., 2010). While I was completing this study, a draft of a new set of AoIR guidelines was publicly circulated. The research was approved by the University of California, Berkeley Committee of the Protection of Human Subjects.

34. Last viewed on 24 January 2016.

35. HTML (hypertext markup language) is the markup language that structures web page content. CSS (cascading styles sheets) are used to style and format that structure.

36. Similar interfaces to DeviantArt’s new Share Tools had emerged over the previous decade and were widely used by many web sites to facilitate the spreading of media content over the web. Discursively framing this activity as “sharing” had featured in much of the vernacular discourse about the web (John, 2013, 2012).

37. From FAQ 306, “Does ‘Crediting’ let me use whatever I want?” at, accessed 13 February 2016.

38. False claims of credit did seem to be one of the few acts almost universally considered art theft.

39. Although here I am as interested in the perception of these claims as much as their veracity, she did point me to the evidence. Throughout the research, I noticed how careful many were to carefully post evidence of art theft claims, though this evidence was not always accepted by other members.

40. Thanks to Paul Duguid for pointing this out.

41. As expressed in its FAQ, its policies, and in interviews I conducted with employees who set those policies.

42. As Carla Hesse (2002) points out, there were legal notions of something kin to authorship prior, but these were based in a writer or scribe’s ownership of the material of a book, not the intellectual ideas within, which were the property of God.

43. For much of the twentieth century, lawmakers in the United States and the U.K. resisted efforts to turn “home piracy” or “domestic piracy” into a crime, seeing it as an oxymoron instead (Johns, 2009).

44. Heinich, 2009, p. 89.

45. It was not unusual to see a written message in all capitals that said something like, “DON’T STEAL MY WORK” echoing Albrecht Dürer’s warning on the title page of Life of the Virgin (1511): “Woe to you! You thieves and imitators of other people’s labour and talents. Beware of laying your audacious hand on this our work.”

46. This was the case in both everyday discourse and scholarship. That the Pew Research Center’s influential work on the use of the internet in American life over the decade has phrased many of its survey questions about posting content in the language of “sharing” speaks to both vernacular and academic uses (see Lenhart and Madden, 2005; Lenhart, et al., 2010, 2007).

47. Note that this comment was made before a series of changes to those very privacy settings later that year and in early 2010, when many people thought that Facebook was steadily taking away that very control (changes since then have raised questions about whether Facebook is adding control or obfuscating it). Similar arguments were made about the nature of “sharing” and how the internet works, but once public outcry reached a particular level and the federal government began to step in, Facebook revised its features.

48. Woodmansee and Jaszi, 1994, p. 26.

49. Martin Scherzinger (2014) points to a related paradox. According to Scherzinger, many of the most critical voices of modern IP regimes, some of which have employed digital technology as part of the rationale for their critique, unintentionally reinforce the Romantic notion of authorship, innovation, and creativity they seek to undermine in their focus on collaborative authorship, appropriation, remix, and sampling.

50. Examples include detailed analyses of class and digital production in the United States (Schradie, 2011), the work of music fans around the world (Baker, 2012; Baym, 2007; Baym and Burnett, 2009), aspiring musicians’ use of MySpace (Suhr, 2009), uses of YouTube (Burgess and Green, 2009; Lange, 2010, 2007; Lingel and Nauman, 2012; Snickars and Vonderau, 2009), and photographers’ uses of Flickr and other sites (Van House, 2010, 2007; Cook, 2011; Cook and Teasley, 2011). See also Baker, 2012; Faulkner and Melican, 2007; Luther and Bruckman, 2008; Marshall and Shipman, 2013, 2011; and, Ploderer, 2011.

51. The same could be said for contemporary discussion of the “sharing economy.”

52. Baym and Burnett, 2009, p. 442.

53. van Dijck and Nieborg, 2009, p. 870.

54. Schäfer, 2011, p. 24.

55. Ibid.

56. van Dijck, 2009, p. 45. As Alan Liu (2004, pp. 158–173) demonstrates with respect to the importance of the standardization of graphical user interfaces in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the diffusion of corporate culture into everyday life, interfaces should be central objects of an analysis.

57. Lave, 2011, p. 155, original emphasis.



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Editorial history

Received 27 May 2016; accepted 28 May 2016.

Copyright © 2016, First Monday.
Copyright © 2016, Dan Perkel. All Rights Reserved.

Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt
by Dan Perkel.
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