Evidence, evidence based policy and IP

What constitutes evidence for copyright policy? Such is the title of the upcoming event at Bournemouth University as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.  While evidence in IP is a already a challenge, let's take a look a further look at evidence based policy (EBP). To start, a handy definition: "...[EBP] mean(s) that policy initiatives are to be supported by research evidence and that policies introduced on a trial basis are to be evaluated in as rigorous a way as possible." (From this book as cited in this paper.)

The cat tried to eat the evidence
Economics tends to view "evidence" in policy analysis to mean quantitative data.  For example, using employment rates and wages to test the effectiveness of vocational training programmes. A criticism of this approach is that it may miss out on less measurable effects, and that qualitative data, often in the form of case studies or interviews, tells a more complete, nuanced picture.  For example, qualitative evidence might tell you that vocational training programmes have limited effect because participants in such programmes are highly motivated individuals who would find jobs without intervention (a self-selection bias.)  Another concern is that evidence may measure correlation instead of causation.

Fat cats obsessed with measurements
Writing on the topic of EBP is riddled with pithy gems such as "rooting policy in evidence has all the appeal of motherhood and apple pie.  The rhetoric is cheap and easy." (from this paper, via this paper by Australians Greg Marston and Robb Watts) EBP is appealing and has echoes of methods used in science. For example, medicinal treatments (akin to policy) are extensively tested and their impact on patient health reviewed. However, evidence and policy in the social sciences lack the relative clarity associated with outcomes and treatments in other sciences.  Furthermore, as policy is inherently political, it is subject to politics.  Therefore, the risk that evidence is only selectively used, or used in cases where it supports a political stance, can limit the effectiveness of policy evaluation.

Another concern, noted by Ray Pawson of Leeds, is that,  "evaluation research is tortured by time constraints."  Research time cycles do not sync with policy time cycles, thus it is difficult for evidence to have policy impact.  Researchers often mention the elusive search for the "gold standard" of evidence and methodology. He suggests using combinations of meta-analysis (an analysis of analyses) and narrative review (akin to a literature review) to mitigate biases associated with particular methodologies or evidence.

Marston and Watts also have this handy graphic (on the right) of the fundamental elements in EBP research.  These elements include the question being asked, the available evidence, the knowledge this creates and the assumptions upon which the argument is based.  Each of these elements is a challenge to define and remains the subject of debate.

Pamela Samuelson of Berkeley takes the argument back a step and asks, "Should Economics Play a Role in Copyright Law and Policy?"  Thankfully, the answer appears to be "yes." Samuelson notes that economics has had limited impact on copyright so far which she attributes to a lack of economic expertise in the policy making community, regulatory capture, poor communication on the part of economists and cultural differences between lawyers, policymakers and economists.  She also notes that the copyright industries have been successful in obtaining favourable policies without the aid of economics.  Things have moved on since her paper, but there is a lot of work to be done on economics of copyright and evidence-based copyright policy.  Indeed, Samuelson's prediction that groups of economists would infiltrate government IP offices is already coming true.

But what do IPKat readers think?  What actually constitutes evidence?  Will researchers eventually strike gold? 
Evidence, evidence based policy and IP Evidence, evidence based policy and IP Reviewed by Nicola Searle on Wednesday, November 07, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. Academic research into copyright has some serious credibility hurdles to overcome. Much of it is tendentious and biased, with a deep prejudice in favour of consumer access to past stocks and against current and future creative markets.

    "Lobbynomics", indeed!

  2. Actually, 'anon' it's often the other way around. Current evidence for more regulation has severe credibility hurdles, because let's face it, had all the preditions from the last 30 years come true, the 'industry' would have gone bankrupt a dozen times already.

    The same things you said were said 30 years ago when the VCR was the root of all evil. Then the 05 LEK study by the MPAA came and we had a "$6 billion loss to the economy" conveniently glossing over the fact that just ONE company (blockbuster) in an industry they'd tried to outlaw 25 years earlier made that much positive impact in the economy.

    Then there's the other number fudging. Grocery-baggers at walmart are counted as 'copyright industry workers'. numbers mentioned in passing 20 years ago are bandied around as facts.

    The EVIDENCE shows that less restrictions work better economically, and creatively. The only ones that lose out are the gatekeepers, and the lawyers. Two groups which are, sorry to say, nothing but parasites now, and whose well-being should not be the primary influence on policy-setting.

    The UK did learn that lesson with the 19th century Locomotive Laws (also known as the Red Flag laws). Just imagine what had happened if that had caught on. No cars or trucks, because they'd been legislated away to protect the horse and train industries. How convenient do you think that would be for you? how good for the economy?

    Sure you have losers with copyright, you get that with ANY technological progress. how many lamplighters did electricity make redundant? How eager are you to 'protect' that industry and go back to oil and gas lamps? Didn't think so.

  3. What a strange comment.

    Your anger and hostility to copyright are very evident. While you are entitled to your views, "KTetch", I do not believe we will get a rational or dispassionate economic analysis from you or the rest of the PIrate Party "movement."

  4. Maybe it's because I'm a CREATOR (a writer, also worked in TV, and as a copyright enforcer for a record company). The head of the UK party is a creator (a composer and sometimes lecturer at LIPA). In fact, There's a strange absence of lawyers in the pirate parties around the world, compared to other political parties I've worked with/for.

    And I found it amusing you put my name in quotes, yet declined to provide any sort of identifier of your own. I know I addressed who I am adequately, because you had enough to obtain info about me from elsewhere.

    If you really want to talk about rational or dispassionate analysis, then you might want to realize that there has been ZERO such discussion on any law-expansion in the last 30 years.

    Instead it's large lobby groups with unsubstantiated claims. Then you have comments like the first one (which may be you, or may not, we just know they they also were so proud and willing to stand behind the comment that they didn't give any sort of identifier either. You know where they note it's about access to the past stuff (which was created under one agreement, and then had the 'social contract' of copyright changed to their benefit later on) and somehow it is then magically 'against current and future' stuff.

    Amazing that. All he has to do is prove it. Because there's zero evidence of it.

    And remind me which groups evidence was recently derided by the US GAO as not being factual? Oh it was the copyright lobby. What was one of the major recommendations of the Hargreaves report? Would it be that perhaps IP law should be made on the basis of EVIDENCE, and not lobby group claims? I believe it was.

    The copyright maximalists are becoming more of a religion now. With ignoring evidence and cherry-picking data to support their beliefs. Meanwhile groups like the Pirate Party are like SCIENCE, you know where we look at the evidence, and adjust views based on that.

    For instance, take the Digital Economy Act. It had to go through some amazing machinations to get passed, because it didn't stand up to the facts, and cold, hard enquiry, and STILL needed to be a 3-line whip item. That only happened because Lord Mandy got behind it, which he did after a meeting with the then-head of UMG UK, where he was flat-out LIED TO, because again, the evidence pointed the other way.

    And if you think pointing out facts is 'anger and hostility', you must think science is a psychopathic bloodbath.


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