CREATe: a research centre at the intersection of law, technology and social science

CREATe’s Director Martin Kretschmer introduces the CREATe Festival (Royal Society of Arts, London, 24 June 2016):

Research matters. And it matters most where there are fault lines in society. Fault lines may appear unbridgeable, and (to stay in the metaphor) they are places where quakes and social separation can occur.

CREATe’s core concern is the future of creative production, and in particular the relationship between law and digital innovation. What is the role of copyright, among alternative modes of identification, appropriation and finance?

As we come to the end of the first phase of the CREATe project, it is becoming clear that the creative economy needs to be understood in the context of the radical challenge to industrial structures posed by the digital revolution: creative industries are becoming a subset of data intensive industries. All online behaviour is potentially observable, and whoever controls this data infrastructure will have a stake in the creative economy that is very different from the role of earlier cultural intermediaries. This change particularly affects firms with a long tradition of exploiting back catalogues of rights but also opens opportunities for new digital entrants and for cultural memory organisations (such as archives and collections).

Findings for creative economy and policy makers:

  • CREATe’s research demonstrates that sectors of the creative economy face very different challenges. ‘Born digital’ firms behave very differently than the owners of back catalogues that are being challenged by new ‘platform’ intermediaries. The labour market for some primary creators has become more difficult, for example for journalists and photographers, but commercial success has always been the exception. There are continuities in the dynamics of cultural production and consumption, and the supply of creative content overall has increased.
  • There is considerable tension between the emerging empirical evidence and entrenched beliefs. Even perfectly enforced copyright law is not a safeguard against technological change, and it can be a serious obstacle to innovation.

Findings for academe:

  •  Engagement with key stakeholders is not a burden but an opportunity (as long as the independence of academic enquiry is acknowledged and protected). CREATe takes great care to expose our methods and research designs to scrutiny by academic peers, by industry and policy users of research, and to make copyright law and empirical evidence accessible to the wider society.
  • What skills are needed to investigate the digital creative economy? The capacity to conduct innovative, multi-disciplinary research remains fragile. Embedding of skills needs a sustained effort and career opportunities, for example, for microeconomists focussing on innovation and the details of legal intervention; data developers for creative industries and social media analysis; lawyers at ease with empirical methods such as interviewing, ethnography and computer assisted content analysis.

In my view, our main achievements to date include –

  • CREATe has become a key player in a change of policy perspective. The role of copyright law in promoting creativity and innovation is now seen as open to empirical investigation, and CREATe has supplied credible and widely cited evidence, becoming recognised as a global leader in the field within a very short time. The CREATe brand is distinct and internationally acknowledged. For example the Annual Conference of the European Policy for Intellectual Property (EPIP) Association meeting hosted at the University of Glasgow in 2015 focussed for the first time on copyright, and received a wide echo.
  • Our digital resources define a new field of enquiry, and have been used by hundreds of thousands of people from 161 countries. We developed and coproduced CopyrightEvidence.orgCopyrightUser.org (with Bournemouth University & Queen’s University Belfast), CopyrightHistory.org (with University of Cambridge).
  • Peer production of public resources can create an open knowledge environment that is particularly suitable for interdisciplinary fields. CREATe has demonstrated that it is possible to involve users in research design and the development of open access platforms. The exhibitions and data explorer tools available during the CREATe Festival give a flavour of these efforts.

Copyright law does not cause famine or war, but the laws that regulate the infrastructure of the digital world affect every aspect of our lives, our cultural, social and economic development. The overlap of copyright law with data-driven policy interventions needs to be taken seriously. We are only at the beginning of an epochal change.

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