Copyright debate needs better research

copyrightObjective data and independent empirical research will better inform the debate surrounding copyright policy in the digital age, according to US research body the National Research Council.

The Council notes that the roll-out of the World Wide Web and expanded use of digital technologies in the mid-1990s marked the beginning of a technological revolution that changed long-established modes of creating, distributing, and using creative works, from literature and news to film and music to scientific publications and computer software. It suggests the Internet enables near instantaneous and free distribution to mass audiences, yet content creators and distributors have lost much of the ability to prevent infringement on intellectual property.

It says that these changes have given rise to a debate between those who believe the digital revolution has undermined copyright protection and those who believe enhancements to copyright policy inhibit innovation and free speech – a debate that has been poorly informed by objective data and independent empirical research.

Noting the US House Judiciary Committee’s recent announcement of plans to conduct a comprehensive review of copyright law, the Research Council report – Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy – proposes a detailed set of research questions that could inform key aspects of copyright policy, including the scope and duration of copyright protection, safe harbors and fair-use exceptions, effective enforcement strategies, and whether different industries should abide by different rules.

In addition, the report calls for the collection, organisation, and availability of data associated with the activities of various stakeholders and end-user populations. Because much of this data resides in the private sector, the report also recommends that public and private organisations co-operate in building a copyright data infrastructure accessible to academic and industry investigators.

Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America, said the Association appreciated the hard work and dedication of the research committee, which included Mitch Singer, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, Executive Vice President, New Media and Technology, Sony Entertainment. “As the committee noted, ‘the ease of infringing digital copying and distribution often weakens sales and reduces the revenue available to creators.’ A major challenge to all of us is to identify potential avenues of solution, including the creative content and technology industries working more closely together to help ensure an Internet that works for everyone,” he noted.

O’Leary agreed with the importance of robust research and noted that two recent studies involving researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and their colleagues have focused specifically on some of the issues discussed in the report.

In one – Gone in 60 Seconds: The Impact of the Megaupload Shutdown on Movie Sales – researchers found that the Megaupload shutdown caused a 6 per cent to 10 per cent increase in digital movie revenues across 12 countries for 18 weeks as a result of the shutdown.

In the other – Assessing the Academic Literature Regarding the Impact of Media Piracy on Sales – researchers found the vast majority of the literature – particularly the literature published in top peer reviewed journals – finds that piracy harms media sales.

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