Skip to content
Empirical Copyright Research

Empirical Copyright Research

Copyright is one of the most contested fields of internet regulation. Strong copyright protection is routinely assumed to be a key factor in the creative economies. Yet, empirical evidence for its specific effects on creativity and innovation is still scarce. The debate is dominated by normative and legal perspectives. But in which ways does copyright really incentivise creative production? Are media sectors dependent on strong property rights to generate revenue? What is the relationship between imitation and innovation? Is there a clear-cut delineation of legitimately building on existing ideas on the one hand and plagiarising someone else’s work on the other? How are algorithms regulating the distribution, consumption and sharing of cultural goods?


Norms, discourses, routines: Copyright is more than law


The research project Empirical Copyright Research contributes to the nascent field of empirical copyright research with innovative theoretical perspectives and empirically grounded case studies. The theoretical background reflects recent governance approaches, emphasising decentralisation of rule-making and political authority. Thus, the circulation of cultural goods is not only shaped by copyright provisions. Business models, public discourses and norms, daily routines and practices similarly contribute to the ordering of digitally networked environments.

What’s the role of copyright in everyday creative practices?

The empirical case studies address sectors such as the digital games industry or audio-visual format production, as well as social media platforms. Lacking clear-cut copyright provisions, digital games and audio-visual formats produce considerable revenues nonetheless. What are strategies to produce and monetise creative goods in these contexts? How do creators understand their own work? Is originality a necessary ingredient of creative production? This project asks the people involved: designers, programmers, artists, managers and legal consultants.

Duration: ongoing since 2012
Sponsors: self-funding

Durationsince 2012


Christian Katzenbach, Prof. Dr.

Associated researcher: The evolving digital society

Part of the research programme

Former employees

Journal articles and conference proceedings

Katzenbach, C. (2018). There Is Always More Than Law! From Low IP Regimes To A Governance Perspective In Copyright Research. Journal of Technology Law and Policy, 22(2), 99-122. Publication details

Katzenbach, C., Herweg, S., & van Roessel, L. (2016). Copies, Clones and Genre Building. Discourses on Imitation and Innovation in Digital Games. International Journal of Communication, 10, 838-859. Publication details

Roessel, L. van & Herweg, S. (2014). Van Pong tot Ridiculous Fishing: Over imitatie en innovatie binnen de gamesector. Homo Ludens, 2014, 1-6. Publication details

Hofmann, J. (2012). Private Ordering in the Shadow of Copyright Law. Google Books as a Blueprint. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, Sonderheft 46, 248–272. Publication details

Hofmann, J. (2012). Kollektive Kreativität. Probleme des Urheberrechts aus interdisziplinärer Perspektive. WZB-Mitteilungen, 136, 11–14. Publication details

Book contributions and chapters

Hofmann, J. (2013). Information governance in transition: Lessons to be learned from Google Books. In Brown, I. (Ed.), Research Handbook on Governance of the Internet (pp. 71-96). Cheltenham, Northampton: EE Publishing. Publication details

Other publications

Roessel, L. van (2014). Do Apple’s policies impede the growth of serious games? Internet Policy Review, 8. Publication details

Lectures and presentations

Shades of In/visibility: Confronting Collaborative Authorship in Wikipedia, Game Production, and Fanfiction
68th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Hilton, Prague, Czech Republic: 26.05.2018

Christian Pentzold, Wolfgang Reissmann, Christian Katzenbach

There’s more than Law in Controlling IP! From Low IP Regimes to Multimodal Copyright Governance
9th Workshop of the International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP). University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada: 12.07.2017

Christian Katzenbach

Navigating the Grey Zone: Developers’ Views on Imitation and Inspiration in the Game Sector
67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). San Diego, San Diego, USA: 25.05.2017

Lies van Roessel, Christian Katzenbach

Innovation durch Imitation? Zum Verhältnis von Kopieren und Produzieren in der Spiele-Branche
Graduiertenkolleg "Innovationsgesellschaft heute: die reflexive Herstellung des Neuen". Technische Universtität Berlin, Berlin, Deutschland: 21.06.2016

Christian Katzenbach

Playing without rules? An empirical study into imitation and innovation in the games industry.
Monthly Internal Lecture Series 'Spreektafel'. Institute for Information Law (IViR). Oost-Indisch Huis, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: 22.01.2016

Lies van Roessel

Playing without Rules? Regulating Imitation and Innovation in the Games Industry
Annual Conference: European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP) (Session: Creativity, Re-Use and Copyright). University of Glasgow / CREATe. University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK: 03.09.2015

Christian Katzenbach, Lies van Roessel

From Pong to Flappy Bird – Copying and Genre Building in the Games Industry
re:publica 2015. Station, Berlin, Germany: 05.05.2015

Christian Katzenbach, Lies van Roessel

Innovation and Imitation in Game Development
Digital Summit 2015. Magical Startups. Hotel W, Santiago de Chile, Chile: 14.01.2015

Lies van Roessel

Negotiating the Boundaries of Game Imitation: From Pong to Ridiculous Fishing
Annual Conference: DiGRA 2014.. DiGRA / The University of Utah. Snowbird, Utah, USA: 06.08.2014

Sarah Herweg, Christian Katzenbach, Lies van Roessel

Stabilizing and Contesting the Instable through Discourse: Attributions of Imitation and Innovation in the Digital Games Sector
ISHTIP Workshop 2014. International Society for the History and Theory of Intellectual Property (ISHTIP). Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden: 03.07.2014

Sarah Herweg, Christian Katzenbach

Im Schatten des Rechts – Wie informelle Normen das Urheberrecht unterlaufen oder auch auf den Kopf stellen
re:publica 13. Station, Berlin, Germany: 08.05.2013

Jeanette Hofmann, Christian Katzenbach


Distributed Voices: Making Collaborative Authorship In/Visible
68th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Hilton, Prague, Czech Republic: 26.05.2018

Christian Pentzold, Wolfgang Reissmann, Christian Katzenbach

International Cultures of Creativity and Imitation
DiGRA 2015: Diversity of Play. Leuphana Universität. Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg, Germany: 15.05.2015

Lies van Roessel, Christian Katzenbach

Copies, Clones and Genre Building - Innovation and Imitation practices in the Games Industry
Quo Vadis 2015. Create. Game. Business.. International Games Week Berlin. Café Moskau, Berlin, Germany: 23.04.2015

Lies van Roessel, Henrike Maier, Christian Katzenbach

Organisation of events

Innovation in der Gamesbranche - Zwischen Schutz und Freiheit
09.06.2015. Game Science Center, Berlin, Germany. Co-Organised by: Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg (National)

Leontine Jenner, Lies van Roessel, Christian Katzenbach