Theorising before you have all the evidence

"Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different." (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Following last week's post on evidence based policy in copyright, let's look at evidence itself.  Separating the two discussions is a difficult task.  The IPO recently issued guidelines which suggest that evidence in copyright should be clear, verifiable and peer reviewed.  All very sensible.  However, there is a disconnect between the academic ideal of evidence, what is available, what is used and what is accepted by policy makers.  At last week's event on evidence in copyright in Bournemouth, hosted by Ruth Towse and Martin Kretschmer, key figures in copyright debated these topics.

An early consensus emerged on the limits of evidence and the lack of a smoking gun in copyright. Representatives of the IPO were keen to stress that, particularly in copyright, evidence in general is rare and that stakeholders need not engage in complex econometric modelling.  Anecdotal evidence abounds. Andrew Prodger of the British Equity Collecting Society (BECS), noted an excellent example of the television program Edward and Mrs.Simpson.  The program distribution since its original broadcast has been severely limited as one actor chose to withhold the license for their performance.  The rest of the cast and production team are held-up by a single member in the consensus decision making process created by copyrights. [Merpel asks where she might find more on this case and others?]

Panel members felt upstaged by Mona
Jeremy Silver noted that governments do not have the appetite to appropriately address evidence in copyright because the economic impact of the creative industries is perceived to be so significant as to not be worth disrupting.  He also noted that most copyright debate is about exceptions and evidence may not inform policy because we are dealing with things that have yet to happen.  He also used the brilliant phrase, Tarzan economics, to describe the progress from one business model (a vine) to the next (vines yet identified.)

At a panel of social scientists, much of the discussion focused on qualitative and quantitative evidence.  The audience appeared somewhat frustrated by the economic obsession with quantitative evidence but the panel agreed both were needed. There was also some debate on the value of experiments with audience members expressing doubts on the ability of experimental economics to adequately test policy measures.  

Martin Kretschmer noted tension between academic ideal of evidence and the reality of politics in which policy tends to reflect power structures. Sir Robin Jacob pointed out that Brussels decides most of our UK policy and that moral rights are more important. He asked, "What about painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa? It is out of copyright but what about moral rights?" 
Like a cat drawn to a ball of string, I thought I'd attempt a Venn diagram (left) of the debate. For economists, quantifiable evidence tends to be preferred.  However, evidence in copyright often doesn't exist (or is too costly to collect) or isn't verifiable (or privately held information.)  At the intersection of quantifiable, verifiable evidence that exists, we have the economic ideal. Evidence that is quantifiable but doesn't exist is a mythical creature (perhaps the precise value of a copyright?).  Evidence that is not quantifiable but exists and is verifiable would be good qualitative evidence.  Finally, the intersection of quantifiable evidence that is not verifiable could be considered lobbynomics. Is this what evidence looks like in copyright?

And finally, congratulations and best wishes to Martin Krestchmer who is off to Scotland to head up the new CREATe centre at the University of Glasgow.
Theorising before you have all the evidence Theorising before you have all the evidence Reviewed by Nicola Searle on Thursday, November 15, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. The most notorious example of 'Lobbynomics' in recent years is the output of the Intellectual Property Office. The predictions of GDP growth have been widely discredited. They were ridiculed in Parliament, and even disowned by the IPO itself.

    For example, the IPO assumed there are no parodies in the UK today. It assumed consumer electronics manufacturers were liable for infringement - which required us to believe the CBS/Amstrad case had ndoes not exist, or had no effect on the market.

    This is what lobbynomics really looks like: the assumption has been made and "evidence" is manufactured to support it.

    Once again, could we request the Kat discloses the author's relationships with the IPO?

  2. Thank you, Anonymous, for your comment. This post covers a university-hosted event on a general topic in IP attended by academics, policy makers and industry members. It is not IPO specific.

    I am, however, interested in your specific critiques of evidence. Could you elaborate?

  3. Um, did Sir Robin Jacob suggest we give the grand, grand, grand, grand, grand, grand children of Leonardo moral rights....? Only the creator should have moral rights, full stop. The descendants already have copyright for 70 or so years, which they can widely abuse to feel important.

  4. No, I don't think that is what he was suggesting. I suspect he was making a reference to Marcel Duchamp's derivative work of the Mona Lisa (LHOOQ):
    (I should stress that this is how I interpreted his comment, it is possible he meant something else.)


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