CCI Seminar: Ruth Towse, Cultural economics and the digital creative economy

At CCI today, Ruth Towse gave a presentation on copyright and cultural economics (audio should be available soon). Towse’s core argument today was that cultural economics has a lot to add to our understanding of copyright, and that copyright should be more central to cultural policy. First, Towse notes that cultural economics needs more theory — the contribution to empirical research has been excellent, but the development of theory has been much more limited.

Towse argues that the existing and future contribution of cultural economics, though, can add a lot to current discussions about copyright. In particular, cultural economists understand the fallacies of economic impact and valuation studies, and cultural economics has a track record on understanding public goods characteristics of arts and heritage.

Towse worries, for example, about winner-take-all markets in the cultural sector ― when people see what the Met Opera can do, would they be willing to pay to see regional operas? Cultural economics can help: there’s a strong argument that if copyright law cannot protect artists and producers of cultural goods and services, the cases for public subsidies, grants and other awards become much more compelling.

For a primer on these issues Towse (with Handke) has a new edited collection out: Handbook of the Digital Creative Economy which provides a really interesting and relatively comprehensive survey of the field.