1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Valuing the public domain: some research -- and an event this Friday

"Valuing the Public Domain: a Workshop for UK Creative Firms" is an event coming up this Friday morning, 5 December at the Connected Digital Economy Catapult (CDEC), 101 Euston Road, London NW1 2RA. Further details are just a click away, here.  What's this all about? The project itself is explained by Martin Kretschmer -- and anyone whose surname contains five consecutive consonants deserves to be taken notice of.  This is what Martin writes:
Valuing the Public Domain: Summary of Research Findings 
‘Valuing the Public Domain’ is a major research and knowledge exchange project carried out by CREATe, University of Glasgow with the UK Intellectual Property Office, co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The purpose of the project was (1) to map the size of the public domain and frequency of its use [this blogger is sceptical about whether this can be done in a meaningful manner and questions whether it's worth it -- but he's prepared to be persuaded to the contrary]; (2) analyse the role of public domain works in value creation for UK firms; (3) assist UK media companies to identify business models that benefit from the public domain [is this predicated on the assumption that UK media companies need help in regard? Let's hear from them!].

The core research team consisted of Dr. Kris Erickson (Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Research Fellow, CREATe, University of Glasgow), Professor Paul Heald (College of Law, University of Illinois), Dr. Fabian Homberg (Business School, Bournemouth University), Professor Martin Kretschmer (CREATe, University of Glasgow) and Dr. Dinusha Mendis (School of Law, Bournemouth University).

Research focused on the production of new cultural products which draw inspiration from works and ideas in the public domain, such as a video game world based on the novels of Jane Austen, interactive folk tales for classrooms, or Steampunk novels adapted from historical accounts of Bristol.

Three research case studies were chosen: transmedia adaptation of public domain works by small creative studios in the UK, uptake and reuse of public domain materials by independent creators on Kickstarter, and inclusion of public domain images by contributors to Wikipedia.

As one of the goals of this study, a definition of the ‘public domain’ was derived in collaboration with legal experts and economists during a symposium in October 2013. The adopted definition focuses on the practicability of use without requiring permission from a rightsholder.
1) Copyright works which are out of term of protection
(Literary and artistic works created by authors who died prior to 1944)
2) Materials that were never protected by copyright
(Works from antiquity and folklore)
3) Underlying ideas not being substantial expression
(Inspiration taken from pre-existing work that may include genre, plot or character ideas)
4) Works offered to the public domain by their creator
(Certain types of free and open licensed work)
Commercial uptake by creative firms:

Interviews with managers of 22 creative UK firms that previously used public domain materials to create commercial products. Research explored why firms made decisions to invest in development of public domain projects, finding 4 main rationales: 1) engagement with fan community of existing literary work, 2) use of public domain material to complement a technological platform or subscription service; 3) a conscious entrepreneurial strategy based on identification of existing demand and 4) partnership with a public institution to celebrate and engage the public about an event or anniversary of significance. Researchers identified the following issues relating to public domain uptake:
§ Firms working with visual or multimedia content reported difficulties in locating and securing high-quality sources of public domain works (image resolution, digital format). This was a significant challenge to commercialisation.

§ Archives, museums, and libraries were frequently cited as useful partners when seeking access to public domain works, able to provide access to source material and data needed to ascertain copyright status of work.

§ There was little concern about competition due to non-excludability of source material, but firms worried about costs of marketing and sustaining PD projects when initial development cost and investment was also low.

§ Clarity on legal use (e.g. requirements for ‘diligent search’ when using orphan works) would improve commercialisation potential.
Independent creators on Kickstarter:

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter appear governed by an ethos which rewards originality and niche production. But what happens when pitch creators incorporate IP from a third party rightsholder, or material from the public domain? The team performed quantitative analysis on 1,933 Kickstarter projects from January to April 2014. Researchers employed statistical techniques to model likelihood of success of projects when different underlying copyright or public domain material was present. The main findings were as follows:
§ Explicitly obtaining copyright permission to use a third party work in a Kickstarter pitch was significantly associated with higher funding levels achieved.

§ Use of both public domain and third party licensed material were significantly associated with higher likelihood of project success.

§ Previous experience and status of pitch creator was also significant to project success, suggesting that familiarity of both underlying work and its creator is important to Kickstarter funders.

§ Influence of public domain status on success rate was most pronounced in Comics and Theatre categories, compared with Publishing and Video Games. This suggests that the role of PD materials differs across mediums. Direct re-publication of public domain literature does not seem to be rewarded – adaptation to another medium may be more attractive to backers.

Wikipedia is an important global resource which benefits from availability of materials in the public domain (due to copyright term expiration and open licensed material). To assess the value of the public domain to the construction of this resource, researchers studied the presence of public domain images on biographical Wikipedia pages of 1,700 authors, lyricists and composers.
§ Pages for authors born prior to 1880 have a greater likelihood of containing an image than pages for authors born later, even though camera technology became more widespread in the 20th Century. Less than 58% of authors in the sample born after 1880 have images associated with their Wikipedia pages.

§ Controlling for notoriety of authors using a matched-pairs technique, we found that authors’ pages with public domain images attracted 17% more visitors than pages where no image was available, reflecting the value those images contribute to the Wikipedia resource.

§ Using commercially equivalent licence fees obtained from Corbis and Getty for images relating to the biographical sample, we suggest that one could assign a value of USD $200 million (£127 million) per year for the 1,983,609 English-language Wikipedia pages in appropriate categories estimated to contain public domain images.
So there you have it!

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