Copyright: Finally, the Evidence is Coming

Back in 2011, I noted that one of the most significant achievements of the Hargreaves report was its shockingly revolutionary suggestion that copyright policy should be based on the available evidence, not "lobbynomics". The fact that this even...


Back in 2011, I noted that one of the most significant achievements of the Hargreaves report was its shockingly revolutionary suggestion that copyright policy should be based on the available evidence, not "lobbynomics". The fact that this even had to be said shows to what depths policy-making had sunk – something clearly demonstrated by the disgraceful Digital Economy Act, or the extension of copyright term for musical performances, both of which were passed despite the evidence, rather than because of it.

Of course, calling for evidence is all well and good, but that begs the question where it will come from. Since last week, we in the UK have an answer, or rather one more answer, in the form of the new CREATe: Creativity, Regulation, Enterprise and Technology:

CREATe is the RCUK research centre for copyright and new business models in the creative economy. With an ambitious programme of 40 projects delivered by an interdisciplinary team of academics (law, cultural economics, management, computer science, sociology, psychology, ethnography and critical studies), CREATe is a pioneering academic initiative designed to help the UK cultural and creative industries thrive and become innovation leaders within the global digital economy.

The UK has probably the largest creative sector in the world relative to GDP, accounting for over 6% of the overall economy and contributing around £60bn per annum. CREATe will examine the business, regulatory and cultural infrastructure of the cultural and creative industries by exploring cutting-edge questions around digitisation, copyright, and innovation in the arts and technology. CREATe is based at the University of Glasgow, leading a consortium of 7 Universities: the University of East Anglia, the  University of Edinburgh, Goldsmiths (University of London), the University of Nottingham, the University of St. Andrews and the University of Strathclyde.

The Centre will be supported by £5m of funding over four years (2012-2016) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The research agenda has been developed in collaboration with the Intellectual Property Office, NESTA and Technology Strategy Board. The research programme links seven interrelated themes: (i) Good, Bad and Emergent Business Models; (ii) Openness and Open Business Models; (iii) Regulation and Enforcement; (iv) Creative Practice and the Creative Environment; (v) Intermediaries and Platforms; (vi) User Creation, User Behaviour and Community Norms; and, (vii) Human Rights and the Public Interest.

These are all great subjects, but it's particularly pleasing to see business models, openness and user creation flagged up as top-level research topics, since these are key areas that are crying out for serious investigation in the face of much disinformation currently floating around. Moreover, CREATe has already released its first research paper, with hints of things to come:

To coincide with the Launch on 31 January, CREATe published Working Paper No. 1: What Constitutes Evidence for Copyright Policy? This includes an innovative digital resource, offering complete proceedings of an ESRC Symposium with leading policy makers, social scientists and stakeholders.

As can be seen, this isn't just about evidence-based policy for copyright, it seeks to answer a deeper question: what exactly do we mean by "evidence" here?

Of course, CREATe isn't alone in seeking to provide evidence in this way. Also back in 2011, I wrote a glowing review of the report "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies" for the way it brought some much-needed rigour to an area that had been largely given over to hyperbolic industry-driven FUD.

Now there's a follow up called "Copy Culture in the US and Germany", from researchers at the American Assembly at Columbia University (disclosure: this organisation paid my expenses when I attended the Second Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest recently). Here's the summary of the new research:

Copy Culture in the US and Germany is a comparative study of digital culture, focusing on media consumption, media acquisition, and attitudes toward copyright enforcement. The study is based on a random phone survey of 2303 Americans and 1000 Germans in August-September 2011.

The whole report is well-worth reading, and represents another valuable addition to the evidence on copyright that policymakers will need to consider. But if you want the tl;dr summary, here are a few highlights:

Nearly half the population in the US and Germany (46% US; 45% DE) has copied, shared, or "downloaded for free" music, movies, and TV shows. We call this "copy culture."

Copying and online file sharing are mostly complementary to legal acquisition, not strong substitutes for it. There is no significant difference in buying habits between those who copy or file share and those who do not.

P2P file sharers, in particular, are heavy legal media consumers. They buy as many legal DVDs, CDs, and subscription media services as their non-file-sharing, Internet-using counterparts. In the US, they buy roughly 30% more digital music. They also display marginally higher willingness to pay.

In the US only a narrow majority (52%) offers clear support for penalties for unauthorized downloading. An additional 7% would consider the circumstances.

In Germany support for penalties is 59%. An additional 9% would consider the circumstances.

In the US this support is significantly lower among the young. Among American 18- to 29- year-olds, only 37% support penalties for unauthorized downloading. 53% oppose. In Germany 56% of 18-29 year olds support penalties.

Our results show an ordering of values online, in which copyright enforcement is viewed favorably by majorities in both countries until it conflicts with other values such as freedom of expression and privacy. We asked a range of questions that explore these conflicts.

In the US 61% of Internet users support a soft requirement that web services like Facebook and Dropbox "try to screen user activity and remove pirated files." Support falls slightly for stronger requirements that ISPs and search engines block access to pirated music and videos (58% for ISPs; 53% for search engines).

Support drops to 40% if the government is involved and to 33% if the word "censorship" is used.


Proposals to legalize file sharing have been put forward by a number of stakeholders in the copyright debates, including by several European political parties.

Sixty-one percent of Germans would pay a small broadband fee to compensate creators in return for legalized file sharing.

Forty-eight percent of Americans would do so—a surprisingly high number given the relative invisibility of such proposals in US debates.

The median willingness to pay was $18.79 per month in the US and ‚¬16.43 in Germany.

Those last figures are quite remarkable and unexpected. They show the value of conducting this kind of research, since it can reveal hitherto unsuspected trends that could have substantial impact on the formulation of appropriate policy for maximising the benefit of copyright for all stakeholders. Given that, it's great news that alongside the continuing good work at the American Assembly, we now have CREATe here in the UK to add to the tiny but growing collection of evidence about what is really happening in this field. Now all we need is for politicians to use it.

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