Expert Comments

Comment by Prof. Ruth Towse (Bournemouth University)

Thank you very much for asking me. I think I’d like to just take up the Google thing, just straight away very quickly. I am not associated in any formal way at all with PRS but I have been working with their economists, looking at their new procedures and so on. I have a suggestion about this, which is that I think that PRS, I don’t know what motive PRS have for doing this and I didn’t know about the study until it came out through CREATe, but the Chief Executive of PRS is an economist and I suspect that they’d be very interested in hearing these kind of comments and I could act as a go between. If people would write these comments, sort of formally, I could take them to PRS and say look, why don’t you try and press Google on these subjects and see where you get to with it. I think PRS would be very pleased if they thought that, for example, there’d been, you know, under represented the amount of revenue foregone – I mean revenues that they could collect but they aren’t collecting somehow because of this activity. So I’ll just leave that subject at that. My statistical abilities are not so much, I can’t add to anything that people have said. People know far more about it than I do, but I think that might be a role for CREATe to do that.

Let me now go to commenting on what Piers Fleming was saying about the Buccafusco and Sprigman, and Paul Heald’s presentation. I think there’s some important applications that have been made in cultural economics from the kind of literature which probably is old fashioned and somewhat outdated but has been actually used in relation to creativity, particularly by Bruno Frey, who has I’m afraid fallen from his great pedestal, but not in my view because I think he’s done very important work in cultural economics. He’s looked particularly in labour markets, not specifically in creative labour markets, at the question of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and this notion of sort of what he calls crowding out, which is that if someone, particularly an artist, is intrinsically motivated, that an extrinsic payment reward may be not only inappropriate but you know, everybody knows the blood donorship example which is that if you pay for blood donorship you get poorer quality blood than if you get it from nice middle class ladies who want to be intrinsically motivated to give blood.

And I think this has been a very important thing in relation to say questions of how do you fund the arts, how do you stimulate creativity, well, the creativity by sort of artists and basic creators, let’s not argue what to call them, but I think you know what I mean. In other words, it may be far better to offer them grants and prizes, or prizes that are peer reviewed rather than just reward them through the market for money.

I’ve argued that copyright works like this as an institution. It actually works at two levels because it does reward through the market extrinsically via royalties and so on but it also works at another level through moral rights and that’s something that we haven’t talked about very much at all. But moral rights are regarded by artists as extremely important, that they can attribute, you know, so this ties in, in a sense, with the endowment effect.

I think it’s also important to recognise that there’s a difference between the kind of rewards that you get through the market, or through copyright payments through the market, which are essentially ex post and in fact almost impossible to anticipate, which I think is a very important point that we haven’t discussed. I mean for example, I’ve mentioned this I’m sure in other contexts. I mean you sign up for a book contract and, you know, they say you’re given 10% of the book price, but it takes them a year to tell you what the book price is going to be, so you’ve signed up to a contract, you’ve absolutely no idea really what you’re expected monetary reward is. Whereas if you have prizes and awards, these have been suggested as probably people know by economists like Arnold Plant, in the first place in 1934, but also in the Macauley discussions in the 1850s, all those kind of ancient times, but recently by Boldrin and Levine and people in America who are sort of anti copyright people. You know, prizes and awards are ex anti payments, in other words the artist knows, the creator knows that they’re going to get them in advance. So I think this comes out of this kind of discussion of motivations.

I’d now like to move on to one of my bugbears. Methodology to me, as a rather old fashioned economist, is not what people are talking about. I mean my view of methodology is not what people talk about when they talk about research methods, and I think it’s fairly important to make that distinction. Methodology is a sort of rare, philosophical undertaking that applies to all kinds of scientific enquiries, not just to economics but to science in general. But methodology is about explanation, how do you explain. Do you start with some sort of proposition, is it a theoretically based proposition and how do you test, prove, evaluate, whatever words you want for that, how do you relate. I mean, there are ways of talking about that, looking at that and so on. As distinct from, research design which is about what methods you use, whether you’re going to do quantitative, qualitative, social survey methods and so on. That leads to an understanding of things like sampling, of bias and so on.

One of the things that struck me by several of the presentations yesterday was that there was no sense of what population there was underlying the kind of people that the researchers were expecting to talk to. So in other words, there’s no sense of whether this is a sample or not, whether it’s biased and so on. In a sense, I think I could relate that back at one level to this PRS study that we were talking about, which is that a lot of what people were talking about is purely fact finding. It’s scoping out, finding out, what do people think and so on and so forth, but you know, and in a sense, that’s what this study is, in a very complex, statistical way doing more or less the same thing. But you’re not, you know, just going out there and finding a few artists, or I happen to know an author who’s got this problem and so on. I mean, there’s a lot of literature behind all these kind of things which obviously is not known here. There is a whole literature in cultural economics, which by the way, I only got into in the 1990s but it was founded as a subject, essentially, by William Baumol in the 1960s, doing studies of artists’ labour markets and there’s a lot of literature in artists’ labour markets which could be referred to by people who are wanting to go out and do these, you know, asking people questions about what they think about things.

Another thing that I’ve mentioned in the context of methodology is that replication is a very important aspect and it’s one that I think people feel they can’t do because it’s not original. And that’s the whole publication REF thing is sort of militated against with this but it is important to replicate things. If people find things in a survey, that would be a way of starting on a more detailed, say, qualitative study, which in a sense, is what was being suggested about this Google thing. Okay, you’ve got this raw data, now let’s see what we can get out of it. Well, I think, you know, you may criticise Google but I would criticise, well actually it’s not Google you’ve criticised it’s the BAE systems who did the study which actually wasn’t mentioned. I don’t know who they are or anything. So I mean, other people have fallen into that same trap, is what I’m saying, sort of in this room.

However, having said all that, the fact is I’ve been trying to do empirical research on copyright for the last fifteen years, I guess. It is extremely difficult to get the right data and a lot of thought needs to go into what’s appropriate. But it’s equally true that a lot of thought needs to go into what the underlying methodology of what you’re doing is as well as the research methods, and I think we’ve talked a lot about research methods but not at all about methodology.