Research Blog Series: Individual Creators

Smita Kheria presents her research exploring how copyright affects the careers of individual creators, for the Research Blog Series


Events where interviews and observations were conducted:
Ars Electronica, Transmediale, FACT Liverpool

Project: Individual Creators

Investigator: Dr Smita Kheria, University of Edinburgh

What did your research aim to do?
The key aim of the research was to understand how, in a changing technological and socio-economic environment, copyright law trickles down and is played out in day-to-day creative practices. The research focussed on individual creators and their understandings of how copyright intersects with their careers, in particular how relevant or irrelevant it might be to them and whether or not it hinders or benefits their creative practice.

How did you do it?
In order to investigate the role of copyright across different creative disciplines an extensive study was initiated. Over 120 formal in-depth interviews were conducted with a range of writers, illustrators, composers, visual artists, and performers. The interviews were undertaken (and in conjunction with observations) at selected literary and arts events and festivals (for example: Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Ars Electronica, Transmediale, Future Everything, Go North!, FACT Liverpool and others), and informal conversations with various agents, managers, curators and arts organisations. Additionally, organisations that play an important role in representing creative practitioners, such as the Association of Illustrators, the Musicians’ Union, the Scottish Artists Union, and the Society of Authors in Scotland, were consulted.

What are your key findings?
Copyright underpins the professional practices of a range of individual creators and many see it as valuable both economically (through monetary reward) and personally (when aspects such as reputation, attribution and ownership are viewed as important). In a precarious professional environment, where individual creative careers are portfolio-based, copyright continues to have a useful role. At the same time copyright is not always viewed as optimally configured when it can, in certain instances, restrict creative pursuits or fail to serve professional creators’ interests.

Creators’ relationships with copyright are complex and cannot be understood in economic terms alone. The value and utility of copyright, to an individual creator, is dependent on a number of factors; such as the nature of the creative practice, associated sources of earnings, awareness and understanding of copyright as applied to one’s practice, philosophical or political disposition. For instance, one common presumption is that copyright is only valuable to those creators that exploit their creations for monetary reward. However, my findings indicate that creators’ ability to exclude others through copyright is also valuable and it is perceived to be beneficial for several reasons, even by creators who don’t often, or perhaps never, exploit copyright.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
A cursory look at popular media demonstrates that not only is copyright protection highly controversial but it is also an issue that polarises opinion. My work will contribute to dispelling various myths and misgivings that have come to be associated with the role of copyright in the working lives of creative practitioners. Recently, I took my findings to the largest arts festival in the world in order to engage the general public on the role of copyright in the lives of creatives. My spoken word show at 2017 Edinburgh Fringe (via Beltane Public Engagement Network’s Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas), used entertainment and story-telling to deconstruct notable copyright controversies while sharing narratives of individual creators’ lived experiences. Next month, I am taking my findings to local creative practitioners in Edinburgh at the Creatives Mean Business initiative by Creative Edinburgh.

Dr Kheria, Edinburgh Fringe 2017, Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, ‘No copyright, No Problem?’

My work is relevant to policy discussions on how copyright can more effectively serve the interests of individual creators.  At a meeting of the European Group of The International Federation of Musicians I drew on my findings to underline how the provisions in the proposed EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market can be recalibrated to properly and more positively affect the working lives of creators.

As a direct consequence of my research for this project I have collaborated with two music industry partners (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors and Music Managers Forum), and we successfully obtained an AHRC Creative Economies Studentship to evaluate whether the current legal framework is fit for purpose in rewarding musicians and music creators in the changing digital music consumption landscape.

How has your association with CREATe helped to take things forward?
It has provided opportunities for engaging with academics from different institutions on interdisciplinary research and for disseminating findings to both domestic and international audiences.

Find out more on the project’s web resource: http://blogs.sps.ed.ac.uk/copyrightandcreators/

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