Research Blog Series: Music Copyright in the Digital Age

Continuing our Research Blog Series, Kenny Barr describes his PhD research into the effects of the digital age on creators and investors in the UK music industry.


Project: Music Copyright in the Digital Age

Investigator: Kenny Barr (University of Glasgow) with supervisors Professor Martin Cloonan, Professor Martin Kretschmer and Professor Andreas Rahmatian (all University of Glasgow).

What did your research aim to do?
The research sought to interrogate emergent, but under-researched, responses to the ‘digital crisis’ facing stakeholders (creators and investors) in the UK music copyright industries.

How did you do it?
The research employed a mixed method approach of document analysis of contracts and royalty statements, combined with semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders: primary creators and key corporate decision-makers in particular.

What are your key findings?
The research found considerable variety in the types of copyright ‘deal’ creators enter into and considerable divergence in the potential rewards. It was observed that new-entrant creators have little comprehension of the basic tenets of copyright, but with experience they become more ‘copyright aware’.

Documentary and interview evidence reveals creators routinely assign copyright to third party investors for the full term of copyright in sound recordings: the justification for this is questionable. An almost inevitable consequence of this asymmetry of understanding of copyright and asymmetry of bargaining power is that creators become alienated from their copyright works.

The empirical evidence presented here supports historic and contemporary calls for a statutory mechanism limiting the maximum copyright assignment period to ten-years.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
Beyond the academic milieu, there has been meaningful knowledge exchange with collecting society PRS for Music, as well as fruitful engagement with primary creators at workshops including a music publishing workshop at Digital Catapult in London. Some of the findings of the research contributed to ‘Going for a Song’, part of the copyrightuser.org web resource.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
Although there was significant engagement with music industries stakeholders, accessing documentary data and interview subjects was a challenge throughout the research. The main lesson learned is that it is necessary to be able to demonstrate to participants and contributors the reciprocal benefits of participating in academic research.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
There are a number of additional research questions to be answered in this area. Among the most significant of these would be to conduct a quantitative survey of primary creators’ experience of collectively and individually negotiated copyright operating in the UK context and in wider markets.

What have been the career advantages of doing your PhD at CREATe?
Upon completion of my PhD I successfully applied for a research associate post at Centre for Cultural Policy Research at University of Glasgow. This 3-year ESRC funded ‘Television Production in Transition’ project examines the relationship between independence, scale and economic sustainability in the television production sector and related implications for public policy.

For more information see Dr Barr’s article, blog post, PhD thesis and the Going for a Song resource.

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