Philipp Tuertscher’s paper “The seven IP commandments of a crowdsourcing community: How self-organized norms-based IP systems overcome imitation problems” was selected out of 600 articles to receive the Best Paper Award of the Technology and Innovation Management Division at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Vancouver (Canada).
In this multi-method study (using netnography, survey, field experiment) Philipp and his co-authors studied Threadless (known for its unique designs printed on clothing and other products) and investigated how the innovative online user-community self-organizes to govern and protect the intellectual property of its creative members. Every day thousands of users reveal their ideas in order to get feedback, to obtain assistance and suggestions for further refinement, and eventually to gain the endorsement of their fellow voters in the course of Threadless’ online design competitions. Traditional intellectual property regimes like copyright provide ineffective legal protection in such settings, making the Threadless business model potentially very vulnerable: Why would designers make the effort to create and post original ideas and designs if they can be easily copied by others?
The study’s findings show, however, that the Threadless community protects intellectual property on the basis of social norms; an informal regime that is strikingly fast and effective despite the vast size of the community (exceeding 2 million users) and the veil of anonymity provided by the online platform of Threadless. The paper describes the seven “core norms” of this system and outlines their interplay and functioning. Through a field experiment, in which the research team deliberately induced violations by posting imitations of other users’ designs, the study demonstrated that violations were identified and sanctioned within just a few hours. These findings offer new implications for research on collaborative crowdsourcing and provide relevant practical insights how businesses can use the power of crowds not only for ideation but also for the protection of their community’s intellectual property.
Philipp Tuertscher (KIN Research Group) co-authored the paper with his colleagues Julia Bauer (Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Munich) and Nikolaus Franke (WU Vienna). A short version is available for download. The Academy of Management Annual Meeting is the largest and most important academic conference in the field of management and business administration worldwide.