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Intellectual Property Rights: Should the Notion of 'Property' Remain in the Digital Era?

8 March 2011 - 8 March 2012

PI/s in Exeter: Professor James Griffin

Sponsor(s): British and Irish Law, Education and Technology Association (BILETA)

About the research

The existing copyright regime is based on notions of property. Given changes in the technology of distribution, a major contemporary debate is whether 'property' is the most appropriate concept to use in the legal protection of copyright works. Alternative concepts have been suggested by academic commentators, for instance, cross subsidisation. This project will extend this further by exploring the opinions and suggestions for reform of people who are actively involved with copyright works as right holders. The study will assess whether granting a "property right" is something which a copyright owner requires. This empirical research will then be used to inform Dr Griffin's proposals for future reform. For reasons of scale, this research proposal will be limited to copyright.

This research will take forward existing academic literature in the field. For instance, Professor David Vaver, in an article in the Intellectual Property Quarterly, suggested that there is a need to rationalise the rules of intellectual property, and identified a number of aspects for reform. However, what is suggested here is that by interviewing copyright owners it will be possible to identify more varied methods of reform, as well as the potential tradeoffs that may be involved. The research is taking forward recommendations in the Gowers Review, that further investigation is required into new forms of distribution of copyright works.

Hitherto these questions of the relevance of the property concept have primarily been addressed theoretically. However, an empirical approach has the potential to introduce new ideas. This research will almost certainly raise issues as to whether the concept of "property", as used in within copyright law, is one that is appropriate in light of potential alternate economic models, such as non-monetary markets.