The question of what should count as evidence for the purposes of public policy has been at the heart of CREATe’s work since we were established in 2012 (as the “Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy”, funded by three research councils AHRC, EPSRC and ESRC).
Our first public event was a symposium jointly organised with Prof. Ruth Towse (and colleagues at Bournemouth’s CIPPM Centre) in which we explicitly asked What Constitutes Evidence for Copyright Policy? Was a more systematic, social science led approach possible in such a contested area of law, where values and lobby positions are coloured by myths and anecdotes, where an industry of “lobbynomics” skilfully retrofits evidence to support already decided policy lines?
We took the view that it was worth trying. Within just two decades, copyright had morphed from an arcane technical matter to a field of law that was critical to the infrastructure of our societies. There was relevant academic expertise, and a growing body of independent peer-reviewed research that needed to be made visible.
Interdisciplinary reach and a transparent approach seemed to be critical to make this a success. In a series of workshops, we devised a cataloguing structure using Wiki technology. We commissioned several literature reviews, and trained a cohort of PhD students to code academic studies relating to copyright law systematically, by sector, by country, by policy issue, by method. The first team of general editors included an economist (Dr Theo Koutmeridis) and a communications sociologist (Kris Erickson, now Associate Professor at Leeds and still co-chairing our evidence portal), under the supervising structure of an international editorial board. A prototype of what became known as the Copyright Evidence Wiki was first presented at the European Policy for IP conference hosted in Glasgow (EPIP 2015).
The initial selection of studies was pragmatic. The aim was to set a standard of review, and allocate limited resources for coding. The Wiki format is designed for user participation (including historical tracking of editorial interventions). Any gaps in the evidence should be filled by interested parties who could submit studies as candidates for coding.
In 2017, Amy Thomas joined the team, initially as a PhD bursary student. As Managing Editor, she became instrumental in devising a keyword search strategy, and growing the Wiki to now over 800 studies. This enabled us to obtain AHRC funding (as part of the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre – PEC) to design an Evidence Portal that uses the Wiki catalogue as an underlying database that can be queried and visualised, making the assembled evidence more accessible and useful. Credits are due here to Bartolomeo Meletti (as lead producer), Dietmar Aumann (for data visualisation), and Pete Bennett (for web design).
Today, we are launching the 21 for 2021 project that seeks to extract what we have learned until now. 21 experts will review the empirical evidence assembled at CopyrightEvidence.org relating to a wide range of topical copyright issues for the 21st century. From next week, 21 for 2021 will publish regular synthesising pieces on issues including:
- Copyright, news and journalism
- Notice and takedown
- Copyright in new business models
- Copyright term and the public domain
- Computational uses of copyrighted works
- … and many more!
The brief to our experts (typically members of the editorial board of the Evidence Portal and fellows of the CREATe Centre) was to write in an accessible style that may be suitable for a Wikipedia entry. Following an (1) Introduction (what is the issue of law concerned in this summary, what is in scope of the article and what are the main topics to be discussed?); there should be a summary of (2) Debates and recent evolutions (including a discussion of the problems raised by the issue, and the current debates with regards to solving those); a review of (3) Existing evidence and research agendas (here authors should draw on the Evidence Wiki entries for signposting); and an indication of (4) Future directions for research.
We hope that the project will help policy makers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academics and the general public engage with the growing body of empirical work on copyright law, enabling better decision-making in a contested policy field. As Christl A. Donnelly and colleagues argue in Nature, “Synthesis requires brokerage at the interface of public life and academia”.
Starting next week with an opening piece on User Creativity in Online Platforms: Copyright or Contract? (written by Amy Thomas, the driving force behind the 21 for 2021 project), evidence summaries will be made available on the CREATe blog at regular intervals throughout 2021. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with the project!