Image of a team of creatives working on a laptop

Navigating a new era of copyright law

Copyright law has struggled to keep up with the remarkable changes brought about by the digital revolution. With growth in the UK’s creative sector outstripping the wider economy, it is vital that legislation enables rather than hinders the creators and innovators who drive this industry.

The RCUK Centre for Copyright and New Business Models in the Creative Economy (CREATe) provides clarity and guidance for a sector facing constant and fundamental change. It works to ensure that the creative and cultural sectors understand the opportunities for exploitation as well as creative reuse.

Funded by a £5m grant jointly by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the pioneering project helps to shape copyright law for the post web 2.0 digital era. Based at University of Glasgow, the Centre brings together an interdisciplinary team of academics from law, economics, management, computer science, sociology, psychology, ethnography and critical studies within a consortium of seven UK universities (Glasgow, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Goldsmiths University of London, Nottingham, St Andrews, and Strathclyde). As a national hub, CREATe also works with universities across the UK (Bath Spa, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Kent, Leeds, Oxford, Queen Mary, Queen’s University Belfast) and over 80 industry, public sector and civil society partners.

The project is led by Martin Kretschmer, Professor of Intellectual Property Law, with deputy directors Lilian Edwards, Professor of E-Governance, University of Strathclyde and Philip Schlesinger, Professor of Cultural Policy, University of Glasgow.

“CREATe’s core concern is the future of creative production, and in particular the relationship between law and digital innovation. What is the role of copyright, among alternative modes of identification, appropriation and finance? Creative industries are becoming a subset of data intensive industries. All online behaviour is potentially observable, and whoever controls this data infrastructure will have a stake in the creative economy that is very different from the role of earlier cultural intermediaries.”

Exploitation or exploration?

Conventionally, content was consumed, but now these ‘consumers’ are playing a more active role (for example creating playlists, retweets and user-generated content) and content is targeted based on the demographics of users.

CREATe revealed the emergence of a ‘platform economy’ in content exchange, where the creative ecosystem is now increasingly organised around platforms that link multiple social groups through mobile access and social media. In countries which leapfrogged to mobile technology, such as China, creative content is increasingly financed by the internet majors. They no longer act as distributors. For example, new consumer-led literary genres have been absorbed into mobile subscriptions, supplemented by micropayments.

"The creative industries are changing dramatically. Digital disruption does not affect only the processes of production, distribution and consumption. In a much more fundamental way, firms investing in these industries are interested in the data generated by consumers rather than the actual consumption".
Professor Martin Kretschmer

Professor Kretschmer stresses how important it is to understand the interface between copyright law and algorithms (that may predict the content served). Artificial intelligence relies on large amounts of data, and these come from human activities on platforms that are social and cultural – the traditional domain of the creative industries.

How do these evolving relationships fit with current laws? CREATe has contributed to copyright reform processes at UK, European and International levels. In one example, CREATE’s collaborative research on the use of parody from music videos led to the introduction of an exception for parody into UK copyright law.

Researchers found that lower charting videos on YouTube benefitted from being parodied. Parody, they found, increased viewership of the original content. Similarly, higher charting YouTube videos had a large number of parodied versions. Flexibility in copyright law can provide unexpected opportunities.

Equipping the digital entrepreneur

Everyone is now a potential digital content creator and publisher. This has led to a rapid rise in small-scale digital creators who may not have the time and resources to understand and apply seemingly impenetrable copyright laws. This lack of knowledge about their rights and responsibilities can leave many exposed.

“It could be a media professional, it could be an entrepreneur but it could also be an archivist or it could be a schoolteacher. People who need to make decisions whether they can or can't use material or they make decisions whether they should or could exploit material.”
Professor Martin Kretschmer

To ensure these content creators could make informed decisions about their work in relation to copyright law, CREATe developed a digital resource: The site provides independent and accessible copyright guidance for the creative, cultural and education sectors.

Since its launch in 2014, the resource has become the UK’s most visited copyright guidance site. With over 250,000 users, the user-friendly site responds to the need for independent, authoritative and accessible copyright guidance. It has now established itself as the main point of reference for everyone looking for copyright guidance within the UK creative industries, cultural heritage organisations, and the education sector. A large number of cultural and academic organisations link to The resource is listed by the European Audiovisual Observatory and Ofcom (2016 & 2017) as one of the top five Media Literacy projects in the UK. It was featured in Mike Weatherley MP’s report to the Prime Minister on copyright education and awareness (October 2014), and also promoted by the AHRC in Impact Reports.

CREATe has achieved international leadership very quickly. It has played an important role in leading thinking, sector collaboration and scholarship within this emerging field. Now at the end of its initial 5 year funding the Centre has been awarded additional funding from the AHRC for a national network on copyright and innovation (CIN), and co-creation activities around digital access to cultural heritage. Partners include the British Film Institute (BFI), lottery funded partner IntoFilm, UK Intellectual Property Office, National Library of Scotland, Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), Scottish Games Industry Network and the Digital Catapult. CREATe is committed to connecting the best researchers in law, technology, social sciences and humanities with new opportunities in the creative industries.

About the researchers

Martin Kretschmer is Professor of Intellectual Property Law in the School of Law, University of Glasgow, and Director of CREATe. From 2000-2012, he was Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management (CIPPM) at Bournemouth University. In 2010/11, Martin was seconded to the UK Intellectual Property Office under an ESRC KE Fellowship (at the time of the Hargreaves Review). In 2012, he was invited to become a member of the European Copyright Society, an association of 20 leading scholars. In 2015/16, he was President of EPIP, the European Policy for Intellectual Property Association. In 2018, he will be Fernand Braudel Senior Fellow at the European University Institute in Fiesole/Florence. Martin has worked on many independent reports for the UK Intellectual Property Office and the UK Cabinet Office, and contributed to EU Copyright Policy.

Image of Dr Sukhpreet SinghDr Sukhpreet Singh is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Glasgow and CREATe Programme Leader. He is also the Director of the MSc / LLM in IP, Innovation & the Creative Economy programme. His research on market based approaches to IP protection and exploitation, funded by ESRC, by industry, and by government grants, has been recognised internationally and has had impact on professional practice through publications, reports, and training seminars.