2012 research awards

Copyright reform (intellectual property rights: should the notion of property remain in the digital era?)

  • Principal Investigator: James Griffin, University of Exeter
  • Start Date: Jan 2012. End Date: Jan 2013
  • Amount: £2939

The existing copyright regime is based on notions of property. Given changes in the technology of distribution, a major contemporary debate is whether property is the most appropriate concept to use in the legal protection of copyright works. Alternative concepts have been suggested by academic commentators, for instance, cross subsidisation. This project extends this further by exploring the opinions and suggestions for reform of people who are actively involved with copyright works as right holders. The study assessed whether granting a property right is something which a copyright owner required. This empirical research was used to inform my own proposals for future reform. For reasons of scale, this research proposal was limited to copyright. This research will take forward existing academic literature in the field. For instance Professor David Vaver, in an article in the Intellectual Property Quarterly, suggested that there is a need to rationalise the rules of intellectual property, and identified a number of aspects for reform. However, what is suggested here is that by interviewing copyright owners, it will be possible to identify more varied methods of reform, and the potential trade-offs that may be involved. The research is taking forward recommendations in the Gowers Review that further investigation is required into new forms of distribution of copyright works. Hitherto these questions of the relevance of the property concept have primarily been addressed theoretically. However, an empirical approach can introduce new ideas. Indeed, this research did raise issues as to whether the concept of property as used in within copyright law is one that is appropriate in light of potential alternate economic models, such as non-monetary markets.

I have carried out interviews with right holders concerning copyright reform. These are being carried out in person. The two research questions being addressed are whether copyright holders: a) desire property rights in copyright, and b) whether they would like any reforms to take place to the notion of property within copyright, and if so, what those changes would be.

The research funding has enabled me to carry out 20 interviews. The funding was a contribution towards costs. The interviews carried out have covered those working in the music and book publishing industries, with a focus on those involved in distribution. In total, there is in excess of 17 hours of recorded interviews, which goes considerably beyond the original estimate of 6 hours. Those interviewed have been extremely willing to provide their views. The majority of the interviews have been transcribed. The work was been published in the ICLRT at the end of 2014 (link below). I have given a paper at the BILETA 2013 conference at the University of Liverpool, and will disseminate findings further.


The future of technological law: The machine State, International Review of Law, Computers and Technology, 2014

Final Comments:

Overall, I am very pleased at the way that the project ran. My one concern was attempting to fund all the interviews required with the provided sum of money but by doubling up interviews and arranging interviews in areas of the country where I would be for other reasons, I was able to carry out all that I needed to with the provided research monies. Otherwise, this has provided a valuable stepping stone for ongoing funding applications.