Today I presented an outline of my research at QUT Law School‘s lunchtime research seminars.
This project examines new models for producing knowledge and cultural goods – books, films, and music – through collective action. For a long time, copyright scholars have assumed that apart from some limited public subsidies, a private property right in expression (copyright) is necessary to coordinate the production of new works. Copyright provides a mechanism for investors to recoup their costs in production, but it requires an expensive trade-off with public access: copyright goods are underdistributed and underutilised throughout society. In recent years, the assumptions behind copyright are being challenged by the increasing visibility of commons-based models of production, which do not always require limiting access to knowledge and cultural works. Peer-production (open source software, Wikipedia) and the wealth of amateur content that flourishes on the internet have falsified the assumption that private incentives are necessary to encourage production. Now, the assumption that limiting free-riding is necessary to fund expensive professional cultural production is also being challenged: ‘peaceful revolutions’ in copyright business models are seeing groups of funders pledging to fund the costs of production in advance in a series of recent experiments. At an individual level, crowdfunding enables the large scale, distributed financing of production processes by consumers; at an institutional level, consortia of funding organisations are coming together to develop larger, more sustainable efforts.
By enabling producers to raise their costs in advance from their ultimate funders, rather than relying on sales of the final works creative works to recoup their investment, commons-based models potentially enable much greater access to knowledge and cultural goods. Unfortunately, little is still known about when and how commons-based cultural production models can be successful in the face of potential free-riding. This research seeks to understand the conditions and strategies for successful collective action across a range of creative industries and the implications this might have for copyright theory and policy. Where these peaceful revolutions are successful, they represent significant transformations that could greatly enhance the dissemination and reuse of knowledge and culture, which is in turn crucial for human flourishing and growth in an innovation economy.