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Look Before You Leap: Legal Pitfalls of Crowdsourcing

Stephen Wolfson and Matthew Lease

ASIST 2011 Annual Meeting
New Orleans, LA, October 9-12, 2011


Crowdsourcing is quickly shifting the traditional landscape for how people work, invent, fund new enterprises, and create new artistic works. Such innovative shifts often run ahead of the law and raise new legal questions that may not yet have very definite answers. This paper considers five such legal issues which the crowdsourcing community (providers and customers) should discuss, both to inform their own practice and to advise future policy. Specifically, we consider employment law, patent inventorship, data security and the Federal Trade Commission, copyright ownership, and securities regulation of crowdfunding. Ultimately we offer three practical suggestions for crowdsourcing: be mindful of the law, define relationships in advance, and be open and honest with crowdworkers. While we limit the scope of legal regulation considered, we hope to provide a useful introduction to several areas where crowdsourcing and the law may (soon) intersect, and to offer some insight on how a court/lawyer may view them.

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