Monday, October 27, 2014

Korea Copyright Commission and evidence based policy making

In early October I had an unexpected email from an economist at the Korea Copyright Commission, SangHee Yoo, requesting a meeting to discuss some work I did with Mark Rogers and Josh Tomalin for Consumer Focus four years ago, on the economic impact of consumer copyright exceptions.

I'm pleased to say I had the privilege of meeting SangHee and the Director of the Commission's Copyright Industry Research Team, Yong-Yeong, Lee, on Friday afternoon. As part of a whistle-stop six day business trip of Europe they came straight to Oxford after landing at Heathrow and I dropped them back to the bus station to catch the Heathrow express immediately afterwards.

With the aid of Oxford University student, John*, as official translator (though SangHee's English was excellent), we had a wide ranging discussion on the economics of copyright and the need for evidence based policy making in copyright and intellectual property more generally, including but not limited to -
  • Historical paucity of economic evidence in the whole area of intellectual property
  • Specifics of our Consumer Focus report
  • The Gowers' and Hargreaves' reviews of intellectual property policy in 2006 and 2011 for the UK government
  • 'The Economics of Copyright' paper Mark Rogers and I wrote for the World Economics journal, July-Sept 2005
  • The effectively perennial nature of copyright term
  • The effectiveness of incumbent copyright industries in engaging in regulatory capture
  • The tendency of busy generalist policymakers to turn to the 'experts' - i.e. incumbent industries - in this area
  • The periodic degree to which industry act against their own self interest e.g. trying to get the VCR banned in Sony v Universal, losing and subsequently making vast revenues on video cassette, DVD and BluRay sales; and suing the original Napster out of existence instead of doing a deal with the company ideally suited to facilitating leveraging incumbent music labels' control of physical distribution chains into the online world
  • The historic pattern of oligopolistic convergence/consolidation of the copyright and information industries
  • The need to engage all stakeholders - creators, economic agents (industries etc) and the public
  • The power of simple economic models using sound empirical evidence - mathematics used with integrity (rather than numbers quoted out of context or plucked out of thin air with an agenda) is the friend of all three generic sets of stakeholders in this arena
  • A Singapore researcher's report on evidence based policy which I was unfamiliar with
  • Some interesting empirical work done for the European Commission a couple of years ago
  • The complexity of IP policy making 
  • The difficulties for researchers in gathering sound empirical evidence, given the complexity and dynamics of the copyright and information industries and the fierce and selective control the traditional large entertainment and information industries exert over industry figures. So for example the fact that the Tolkien estate had to sue the movie industry for its share of the profits from the blockbuster Peter Jackson 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy is just one of endless examples of the creative accounting practices at large in the movie business.
  • The recent introduction of new copyright exceptions in the UK for format shifting and parody based on years of work by Tony Clayton's team of economists at the IPO, the copyright team at the Department for Business and the campaigning of NGOs and academics
  • Complex ethical questions posed e.g. by human gene patenting
All in all it was a really engaging discussion.  It's humbling to have someone say they found work you have helped to produce useful (and I really only did help - Mark and Josh did most of the heavy lifting on that Consumer Focus report). It's even more so when they are prepared to travel a long way to explore the issues in more detail, face to face, having read that work.

Apparently SangHee's attention had been drawn to our Consumer Focus report by someone who had done a report on evidence based copyright policy for the European Commission. I made the assumption it was one of the folk who had produced the Statistical, ecosystems and competitiveness analysis of the media and content industries report in 2012. Glyn Moody did an accessible outline of the essence of the report at the time over at techdirt.

I gave Ms Yoo and Director Lee a copy of The Economics of Copyright which seems small compensation for such a long trip. I would like to thank them both for coming to see me and I hope they found the meeting at least somewhat productive.

It was very encouraging to learn first hand that the Korea Copyright Commission is keen on evidence based copyright policy making. That remains something of a rare trait amongst national and international intellectual property policymakers. It would be nice if the idea caught on.

*I'm sorry to say I didn't make an accurate note of John's full name but he was excellent and John, if you do happen across this post, do get in touch and I'll include your full name for the record.