Living With(in) Copyright Law: What is it, how does it work, how could it change? Project Report

CREATe Working Paper 2017/10

Lee Edwards, Giles Moss, Kristina Karvelyte


This study is underpinned by the principle that copyright policy is a matter of public interest, and as such, should be a subject of public discussion and debate, so that the eventual implementation of copyright is one that attracts a general level of agreement among all affected parties. It builds on an earlier research project1 that examined the ways in which copyright was understood and evaluated by industry, activist groups and users (see Edwards et al, 2013, Edwards et al, 2015b, Klein et al, 2015). This earlier work argued that users should be viewed as ‘sources of legitimate justifications rather than dysfunctional consumers to be educated or prosecuted’ and identified the need for a more deliberative and democratic process of copyright policymaking (Edwards et al, 2013: 10). However, little research has delved further into public opinions about copyright, explored how they might be formed, and considered what might happen when members of the public are given a broader range of information about copyright from which to form their opinions. The purpose of this research project was to investigate how people would engage with a deliberative process, where they were given the time and space and a range of information to reflect on the complex issue of copyright.

The event ‘Living With(in) Copyright Law’ was a deliberative exercise that brought 88 members of the Leeds public together over one weekend to discuss the nature of copyright law, its implementation, and ways it might change. Participants were provided with information about copyright from advocates and experts in the field and then asked to discuss key questions related to copyright duration, copyright exceptions, and copyright enforcement and penalties. We found that the participants engaged enthusiastically with the event and that the deliberative process increased their knowledge of the subject, generated reflective critique and provided them with a broader basis for their understanding.

We adopted an unusual methodological approach to the study in order to be able to find out as much as possible about people’s engagement during the event. No specialist knowledge of copyright was required of participants, although some had more detailed knowledge than others. We assumed that their understanding of copyright would be a product of the current information and media environment, as well as their own personal and work lives, and the materials provided for the event drew on news stories and examples of how copyright is used in day-to-day life and popular culture, in order to reflect the different ways in which copyright is discussed.

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