The Global Congress Research Survey: Research Priorities, Part 4, Creative Economies and Practices

Another installment from the 2013 Global Congress Research Survey, focused on research priorities around creative industries, incentives, and changing cultural practices.

See Part 1 for an explanation of the survey and some comments on international scholarship and needs
Part 2 focuses on copyright reform and enforcement.
Part 3 focuses on trade, patents, and health.

As always, if you’d like to submit a couple paragraphs about research priorities, you can do so here.

Christopher Sprigman, NYU, USA 

We have largely one-size-fits-all IP law that treats a range of very different creative industries similarly. So copyright law imposes basically the same rules on software that it does for motion pictures. And patent law imposes basically the same rules on pharmaceuticals as it does on technologies in smartphones. I would like to see more studies focused on the innovation conditions in particular industries, aimed at understanding what the drivers of innovation are in those industries, and whether innovation in that particular setting thrives with more, less, or no IP protection. Understanding innovation better at the industry level would help us determine whether IP rules should be made more industry-specific, or whether the domain of IP law should be expanded or contracted.

Relatedly, I would like to see more research on the effect of IP rights on both competition and sequential innovation. We have a fair amount of economic theorizing on both, but relatively little empirical evidence regarding how IP shapes competition and sequential innovation in specific markets.

Joel Waldfogel, University of Minnesota, USA

One of my messages of late has been that, as important as piracy is, researchers should move beyond piracy and should instead ask the broader question relevant to whether copyright is working:  in light of various different technological changes – some of which reduce revenue and other which reduce costs – what’s happening to the flow of new products.  My own work is empirical using large-scale real world (as opposed to experimental1.  The main challenge is generally getting access to such data, which exist but are often expensive.

Koleman Strumpf, University of Kansas, USA

In addition to examining the impact of IP on economic returns, it would be very useful to broaden our knowledge of how changes to copyright influence creative output. Topics could include how the quantity and quality of artistic production is shaped by IP, how reuse is impacted by IP, and how firms and individual artists respond to these changes. I think the first target here should be the academic community.

Greg Lastowka, Rutgers University, USA

I would like to see more attention paid to the economics of non-market copyright production and to the costs and benefits of our new information environment.  Ideally, this research would be empirically grounded — while theoretical work is valuable, I’m concerned that many copyright critics are missing the opportunity to ground their claims in data.  Paul Heald’s recent work on the practical effect of copyright protection is a great example of data-driven research in this area.  In my opinion, the contemporary economic calculus of intellectual property is too often exclusively focused on industrial models of commoditized information. This is only part of the story of intellectual property. More attention should be given to empirical research that situates copyright law as cultural policy and considers the value of creativity and information exchange outside of the context of industrial production.

Ana Santos, Duke Law School, USA

There is a lot of assessment and categorization work to be done with regard to IP norms and policies in African countries. While there has been a boom of both scholarly and non-scholarly articles on phenomena like Nollywood, little attention has been paid to other blooming creative industries in Africa and to the role that IP laws, policies, perceptions, misconstructions and fallacies have played in fostering/hindering economic and cultural development in Africa.

Paul Keller, Kennisland/Communia/Creative Commons, Netherlands 

From our perspective it would be extremely useful to see research into the attitudes of rights holders who do not commercially or otherwise exploit their works anymore. Given the long duration of copyright and discussions around subjects such as orphan works, mass digitization, extended collective licensing and registration of works it is crucial to gain insight into the motivations of creators/rights-holders that have effectively abandoned their works.

In most policy discussions, this group of rights holders/creators is subsumed within the position of organised rights holders/creators with the latter generally using the need to ‘protect’ unidentified or inactive rights holders as part of their arguments. It is quite credible that rights holders/creators who do not actively exploit their works or are fully inactive have different attitudes (and motivations1 from rights holders/creators who are actively exploiting their works. To my knowledge there is very little work being done on the motivation / attitudes of this specific group.

Mirek Filiciak, University of Social Sciences and Humanities/Centrum Cyfrowe, Poland 

The main problem we identify is combining cultural/sociological perspectives with economist perspectives. There is a wide array of problems that need to be described and understood, starting with the sustainability of new business models. Also the need to build a new theoretical framework that would prove that open production models and a belief that “culture is not just a commodity” defend themselves also in economic terms. We’d love to do it by ourselves, but we have had a hard time finding smart economists to work with, and companies which could share their economic / financial data.

Last but not least – there’s a need to establish some global database for the exchange of data by people interested in the topics we’re focused on. It’s probably much more complicated than it sounds, but it eventually would make our research better and more cost-efficient.

Two narrower suggestions: First, a small qualitative study of blind students, looking at their practices related to copying and content use. While conducting the Shadow Libraries survey I’ve met a few visually impaired doctoral students, for whom a big part of educational materials is inaccessible.

The other is an attempt to establish more representative image of informal content-related practices within universities, by conducting a full, representative quantitative survey.

Both of these study would allow us to further develop a view and understanding of informal circulations of content, which are our (Alek Tarkowski and mine1 team’s main area of interest.

Jessica Litman, University of Michigan, USA

Empirical research on how the copyright system does and doesn’t work is sorely needed.  We all have intuitions about how copyright law does and does not affect creativity, investment and distribution, but there is almost no research examining whether those intuitions actually reflect the world (and if so, which ones of them1.  That makes it very difficult for purveyors of dueling intuitions to even have a conversation.

Kristin Thomson, Future of Music Coalition’s Artist Revenue Streams Project, USA

From the musician revenue perspective, we’re always keen on having Artist Revenue Streams work replicated in other countries. We’ve had conversations with key organizations and individuals in Canada, the UK and some smaller European countries, but we lack the funding to proceed. If anyone wants to work with us to make this happen, we’d love to talk.

Miguel Caetano, Center for the Study and Research of Sociology, ISCTE-IUL, Portugal

I’d like to see more research focused on the material traces of filesharers’ activities on BitTorrent sites and trackers, mainly to assess the level of cultural diversity as well as of dispersion/concentration of attention in the informal circuit when compared to the formal market. For all the talk about the “long tail” of online content both on legitimate as well as illegitimate sites, we should have a better picture of what kind of works generate more traffic—that is, if blockbusters and bestsellers still rule in the informal circuit or if content originated from niche artists and creators get a bigger share of activity. But there is still little data regarding this and adjacent issues.

In addition, I would like to see more “ethnographic” or other qualitative research on the inner life of private sharing communities like BitTorrent trackers (What.cd, Karagarga, Waffles.fm…1 in order to better understand the internal structures that govern these communities and ensure the continuity of a common-pool resource. The self-regulation mechanisms of file sharing communities could be used to inform public policies more in tune to Internet users’ daily practices.

Finally, I’d like to see more quantitative comparative analysis of the content available on legitimate streaming services like Spotify and Netflix and illegitimate file sharing sites and communities across different countries and languages.  These could provide evidence that streaming subscriptions are not currently organized in a way that provides acceptable legal alternatives for many Internet users in many countries. Even when the services are available, there are other barriers, such as geographical restrictions on the contents users are allowed to see.

Pablo Arrieta, Red Para Todos, Colombia

I would like to see more work on the general inferiority of the new digital services deployed in peripheral or poor countries and the resulting use of circumvention techniques by consumers.  The offerings of local services (like Netflix) are poor in comparison to other countries (e.g., the Colombian catalogue vs. the USA catalogue). This leads to geographical circumvention strategies, such as the use of  VPNs to change their location in order to have (paid) access to the content they consider interesting.  Such arbitrary geographical licensing practices are common but are largely unexamined.  The consumer practices that circumvent them are even more of a black box.

Relatedly, banking requirements remain an important barrier to access to the digital economy in developing countries.  In order to buy digital goods in many countries, vendors require credit cards and give no option of “gift cards” or other payment methods. In countries like Colombia (with only a 30% of its population using at least a savings account1 this is a powerful barrier to access. The adoption of cellphones, in constrast, has been rapid in part because of the proliferation of alternative payment models, such as cash cards.  How much of the ‘problem’ of piracy is attributable to these barriers to payment? Are there regulatory strategies that would permit governments to punish companies for passive response on “supply” but active engagement on “law enforcement”?

Ramon Lobato and Julian Thomas, Swindburne University, Australia

Among other things, we would like to document the established and emerging workarounds – VPNs, proxies, etc – that people are using to counteract geoblocking and other digital barriers. The aim would be to get a sense of the mainstreaming of this kind of technology and how it shapes the geography of digital media. This study would be Australia-based in terms of use and policy issues, but with an inevitable international dimension (the services used are located in many different nations).  We are also planning a preliminary study of IP norms in relation to 3D printing, which involves analysis of emerging infrastructures for disseminating 3D models for household printing, using a case study approach.

It would also be helpful to have a deeper understanding of the practices and priorities of government and industry research on media flows, as this sensitive information is not always easy to access. A simple strategy to achieve this would be to stage, then publish, dialogues and interviews between industry practitioners, regulators and scholars. Journal publications are not particularly useful for this task as the publication times are too long, unfortunately. Perhaps there is a need for alternative publication formats to showcase this kind of work.

Alek Tarkowski, Centrum Cyfrowe / Creative Commons Poland / Communia, Poland 

At Centrum Cyfrowe, we plan to continue our sociological and anthropological investigations of content use and copying practices, and of the copyright system. For example, in our policy work we look closely at exceptions and limitations to authors’ rights. We would like to supplement this work with dedicated studies of practices in such milieus as schools and libraries—working on a general assumption that a modern copyright should follow contemporary practices.

Studies of the use of open/free content are also needed to prove the value of such resources. Having said that, we believe that ultimately economic arguments are crucial – thus we are striving to work more closely with economists, and on the economic aspects of these processes. This is difficult, due to lack of theories that span these different fields, but even more importantly, to the difficulty of obtaining good data, which is often held by private companies.

Based on the Polish context and ongoing debate, there’s also need for research that demonstrates relevance of copyright beyond the cultural sector, as a lot of the debates seem focused on cultural content and its creators, while ignoring, for example, the influence of copyright on research and science.

With relation to open content and its production models, in the long term we see a need for a theoretical study comparing the underlying ideologies, licensing rules and content production models of different “strands of open” (OA, OER, open data, etc.1.

Finally, I think that it would be interesting to attempt a “holistic” mapping of flows of funds attached to content (and content, measured through content use metrics, for example1 throughout the society, taking for example into account both public domain, orphan and copyrighted works; content not just in the cultural, but also educational and scientific sector; and different financial flows, in particular those based on copyright law requirements.

Rosana Pinheiro Machado, University of Oxford, UK 

I wish we could put street markets and the trade of fake goods on the agenda of human rights, taking into account the millions of people involved in this activity in the developing countries.  Informal economies and the trade of fake goods are huge sources of employment, but at the same time, a field in which, people are exploited in numerous ways away from formal regulatory forces. Neither a laissez-faire nor strict enforcement approach is possible. In both cases, policies are put in place to satisfy major international institutions.

Balázs Bodó, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

I have two suggestions. The first one is related to the empirical research on copyright policies. The copyright field lacks any official registry, due to the fact the copyright protection is not tied to formalities.  This means that market data is the best proxy we have to the number of works in print, their  availability in different forms, the supply of new works, the demand, etc.  The effectiveness of copyright policies can be assessed through the observation of cultural markets. The problem is that market data is (a) very segmented, and (b) is treated as trade secret by those intermediaries who serve different markets: Google, Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, etc.

The inaccessibility of data on market transactions, on supply and demand; the privatization of knowledge on the cultural flows in the digital domain limits any effort to produce sound research on the economic mechanisms copyright is set to regulate. If copyright related industries have as much weight in the GDP of developed nations as for example agriculture, or energy , we should treat them with equal importance and make sure that the statistics we gather and the data we have on the flows and processes of this sector are as thorough and deep as what we have in those other economic sectors. Better statistical data gathering can and should be amended by an obligation on private cultural intermediaries, such as Amazon, to systematically report on the state of the market they control: supply and demand of works they have in their database, prices, etc. Much of that information is already available through existing APIs or on their public websites, the systematic gathering and archiving of such data is however an insurmountable problem. This can easily be solved by imposing data reporting obligations on those market players who are in the position to oversee a significant share of certain market transactions.

My second suggestion concerns the macro-environment of copyright debates. The recent release of Tor based Piratebrowser signaled that anti-surveillance and anti-copyright digital resistance movements started to merge. Many different groups started to gather behind the shield of dual-use privacy protecting technologies, pirates being one of them. We can expect copyright enforcement arguments to appear in the debate on how to regulate privacy technologies, which forces us, researchers to rethink our questions and arguments in the wider context of digital freedoms and broader digital human rights.

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