This post is by Jaakko Miettinen, a PhD researcher in CREATe at the University of Glasgow, summarising discussion of his paper at our first reading group meeting of Winter 2016. Details about upcoming reading group dates and topics can be found on the CREATe Studio page.
At the CREATe reading group on 14th January, we discussed the challenges of studying copyright using experiments, from a first draft of my PhD research design. The discussion was centred on three main challenges to this method: external validity, relating the experiment to relevant literature and the potential logistical pitfalls that are part of the experimental method. A range of other issues were discussed, but this post will focus on the three that commanded most of the discussion time.
My PhD builds upon literature about the role of incentives in increasing performance, both in terms of algorithmic tasks and creative tasks. Much of this literature comes from organisational behaviour and psychology, rather than from copyright law. My research focuses on how monetary incentives enabled by copyright might affect creativity. The topic has been explored in literature from psychology which focuses on testing creativity and the processes behind it, to the effect of different monetary incentives on creative performance found in the organisational behaviour literature. What was discussed in the group was how exactly to piece all this relevant literature together and relate the findings back to copyright law in a way which takes into account findings from relevant literature without being too general or too technical in its dissemination.
External validity means linking the experimental design back to specific research questions which originate from the external domain under study. In copyright, for example, this would require thinking about the specific rights that copyright gives the creator, and how to replicate this sense of ownership in a laboratory setting and this is the largest challenge of my research. Copyright can be boiled down to ownership and the economic incentive it brings from potential monetisation of an owned creation. Replicating the environment and incentives creators taking into account the realities of copyright is tougher, because copyright is not a guarantee of a monetary reward. There also exists a grey area in terms of what is protected and to what extent, for example, an expression is protected but what is an original expression? These uncertainties of being a creator are a crucial in respect to motivating creation outside the laboratory. However as it is a laboratory setting there need to be abstractions from the actual environment creators face so that there is one variable, such as, a monetary incentive which is manipulated. Thus if there are any changes due to different monetary incentives it can be deduced that it is due to financial reward, as it was the only variable which would be different between conditions. This is exactly the problem when it comes to external validity because the experimental conditions can be different then the very dynamic conditions which creators face in a world with copyright. Not to say there cannot be external validity in experiments studying copyright but there must be focus a on accurately taking into account as many aspects of the copyright environment faced by creators as possible in the experiments.
Designing the experiment
The logistics of an experiment are a large reason why experiments are seen as a risky research method of research because if the logistics are not addressed in detail before the experiment, there is a very real possibility the results will be invalid. Taking this into account along with the fact that experiments can be very expensive it is crucial for experiments to be thought out in fine detail and tested multiple times before actually running them. That is how the process is fine-tuned to minimise the chance of any disruptions and even if there are problems there exists a level of preparation where a road block can be dealt with without it causing a serious problem. Experiments study real life phenomenon using abstractions or simplifications to separate and study a single variable, and like in real life, things can go wrong but the more detailed the preparation the better equipped you are to handle surprises.
Overall I found the discussion to be helpful to my research; in particular it helped to tackle the issue external validity as the discussion was focused on how to make a clear link between gaps in the literature and how to design the experiment to focus on the gaps in existing literature in terms of how copyright motivates creation.
For more information about this project, please contact the author.