Regulating the Digital Economy: Issues and Policy Responses


On Thursday (29th June) I attended a session at the University of Westminster Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) which looked to discuss various issues surrounding regulating the digital economy. They will be releasing a series of publications through Westminster University Press which coincide with the themes discussed, which I will look out for. Some of the speakers were particularly relevant to my interests so I will speak a bit more about two of them here. Following the panel the interesting discussions continued into the drinks reception, and I even remembered to bring my cards so I could give out contact details (this may be the first time this has happened).

Paul Morton from the Office of Tax Simplification spoke to us about issues with taxing the digital economy, including the important question of *where* the digital economy is located. It’s an ongoing and complex problem for people regulating the digital world. For example, where do you tax a customer who usually works in Italy, but is on secondment to Italy, and is on holiday in Hawaii when he downloads the data from the content provider? And likewise, where is the content producer? Different groups across the world work together online to produce content and products of all kind, so where do you allocate tax? Another interesting point was that pretty much every company is now in the digital economy in some way, even if just in the sense of using social media to advertise or having a website. Morton also gave us an interesting and quick history of taxation, focussing on the move from a permanent base for taxation to this complex picture. He ended with three more interesting questions:

  • How do you tax information gathering?
  • If a company sells services in a location where it has no people working, should it pay tax?
  • If a company uses a company infrastructure to provide its’ service, for example the internet, education, etc, should it pay tax?

Personally, I find the issue of taxing the online and digital world very interesting, having worked with individual creators who essentially form a one-person business. These people do not have the same infrastructural support as larger businesses, particularly the larger online behemoths like Amazon and Google, who can afford people to work to understand and exploit the tax systems. In particular I was interested to talk about VAT-MOSS but we did not have time so I hope we will be able to do so in future.

Mercedes Bunz from CAMRI discussed algorithms, AI, and Robotic automation, which was interesting with my other hat on of working with UnBias. There have been more internet connected things than humans since 2008, which is a scary fact when online systems ‘enter the sphere of meaning and start making decisions’. The advent of machine learning has completely changed how algorithms work, by automating their creation through deep learning. This means we don’t know what rules are being learnt and used to make decisions, whereas in the past computer scientists had to manually input specific rules. Introducing human assistance into the system does allow for some adjustment, and as we know from working with young people it could increase levels of trust.

Other speakers included:

  • Pieter Verdegem from CAMRI who discussed internet cooperative and platform capitalism, looking at what happens as platforms replace firms.
  • Will Hayter from the Competition and Markets Authority who not only reminded me of my time with the Centre for Competition Policy at UEA but also pointed out that a lot of the problems of regulating the online world already exist offline, and I think this is an important thing to remember.
  • Jim Killock from the Open Rights Group who spoke about how the digital world necessarily creates monopoly (if a service is being provided well, why bother getting someone else to do it?), and how digital monopolies are useful for governments in giving them someone to blame (if you blame a single company, you get instant results by bullying that company, and also take the focus away from the government).

It’s certainly given me plenty to think about!


Launch of the CREATe Copyright and Innovation Network

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Stunning views from the Digital Catapult

On May 26th I headed down to the Digital Catapult in London for an event to celebrate the launch of the CREATe Copyright and Innovation Network, which brought together findings from the CREATe research programme over the past four+ years. It was an excellent day with some interesting insights.

The day began with a keynote from Professor Paul Belleflamme, from Aix-Marseille Université, discussing his research into the economics of digital goods. He has also previously published on crowdfunding so I was interested to hear him speak. It was a great talk, and I recommend reading the paper here, around streaming of digital and informational goods. There followed a response from Professor Morten Hviid from UEA, who discussed two recent working papers surrounding digitisation of the publishing and music industries. I did my PhD Internship with Professor Hviid at UEA focussing on the crowdfunding of videogames and we’ve had many interesting discussions about the disruptive influence of digitisation and the Internet on creative industries of all kinds, including bypassing and changing the roles of intermediaries.

The second main talk was a report by Dr Nicola Searle from Goldsmiths on the range of business model research that has taken place as part of CREATe, presenting a meta-analysis of the types of business models used by different creative industries. It was very interesting to see the the product business models still dominate, despite all the discussion of the way technology has changed the business landscape in recent years. Responses to these findings came from Dr Xiaobai Shen from the University of Edinburgh, who focussed on business models in the Chinese music business, and Dr David Price from IFPI  (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), who presented on the changes in revenue sources for the music industry, particularly the massive increase in streaming. The panel was finished by Professor Charles Baden-Fuller from City University briefly bringing all the presentations together.

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Dr David Price discusses changes in music industry revenue

After lunch, Dr Joost Poort, an economist from the University of Amsterdam, presented a project about economic rights and how they change as technology advances. Responses were provided by Dr Sabine Jacques from UEA and Erin Simon from Google, both of whom gave interesting perspectives as lawyers, and triggered a fairly lively question session with the audience. Unfortunately I had to leave before the final panel but I’m sure it was an excellent discussion to end the day. As someone who is neither a lawyer or an economist, some of what was covered during the day was slightly out of my comfort zone but there was still plenty for me to take away and consider. Additionally, as my work is predominantly with small individual creators who do not work within an established industry framework such as music or publishing, it was interesting to hear the perspective of those who do. Some issues are the same no matter what part of the creative industries you are in, but others are very different and it’s not surprising to me that many small creators do not feel they are represented in the copyright discourse. I’m pleased that the second phase of CREATe will continue to identify and address challenges in regulating the creative industries to the benefit of both creators and consumers.



CREATe Early Career Research Camp, May 2017


On the 4th and 5th of May 2017 I joined a group of other PhD students and Early Career Researchers for a day and a half of networking, discussion of interdisciplinary working, and research proposals at the CREATe Early Career Research Camp. The participants were a mixture of scholars from law, policy, economics, GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives and museums), creative industries, cultural studies, computer science, and social science (and one vaguely lapsed psychologist). It was held at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow which is a great space for all sorts of meetings and collaborations.

After lunch on the first day, and an introduction to the two days, we rearranged the room into two rows and proceeded to ‘speed network’ with the rest of the participants. We had three minutes to introduce ourselves and our research interests, and discuss ways in which we could work together; this was the overall aim of the event – to find a group of around 5 people and come up with an 8-minute proposal for a collaboration. The winning proposal would win £1000 to carry out their ideas. From the networking and various chats throughout the day, I ended up in a group of 5 of us, all from different areas, but all interested in juxtapositions between the motivations of both creators and consumers.

Following the speed networking, the first panel session looked at ‘making interdisciplinary research work’. Each panelist took a turn to describe their own experiences with interdisciplinary research over their long and varied careers. It was nice to hear a lot said that very much coincides with my own limited experiences; the focus of many of the speakers on the importance of curiosity was also great to hear as I certainly don’t lack that. One of my main ‘problems’ over the years has been wanting to learn ALL THE THINGS. That’s probably why I’ve always been naturally drawn to working in different disciplines. The other major point that struck me was the discussion of language – how the same word can mean completely different things to different disciplines, or how commonplace words in one field may leave someone in another field completely stumped. It reminded me of a lot of my time in both Horizon and my internship at UEA and it’s a really important skill to learn, to be able to talk to people from varied fields.

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Chris Buccafusco speaks about Innovation and Intellectual Property

The other session on the first day was a presentation by Chris Buccafusco from Cardoza Law School about studying the creative process. I loved this session as it involved applying psychological experimentation and behavioural economics to studying the creativity. This included looking at innovation, IP, payment motivations, and a real live experiment (that worked)! The day ended with a meal at a brewery, the Drygate Brewing Company. It’s always good to catch up with people I have known through CREATe for the last 4 and a half years.

The second day began with a morning of panels: How to be an effective networker; Combining research techniques effectively; and Academics and the policy process. Once again it was great to hear from experienced academics and take away useful tidbits for my future career, research, and life. As much as I hate forced networking, it is an important skill, as is the combination of methods from different disciplines to mutual benefit, so I found the morning useful to my thought processes.

After this, all the proposal teams went away to discuss ideas and to come up with our 8 minute presentations. We enjoyed this part so much that we plan to keep in touch and advance our idea further. I think we came up with a really interesting idea with important connotations, and we managed to incorporate all of our different skills and viewpoints. The pitches took place at 3pm and were for the most part highly entertaining. The ultimate winner was definitely worthy, having come up with a new area of online creativity to study. I look forward to seeing what they do with their prize.

By the end of the event I was completely exhausted (having also been to Oxford, Vienna, the Yorkshire Dales, and Winchester in the previous three weeks for various reasons and fun times) but it was definitely worthwhile. The trains back to Nottingham were an absolute nightmare, with the most uncomfortable, jolty, bruise-inducing train I have ever been on. Not a great end to three brilliant weeks, and the insane amount of sleep I got that night and the next day was most welcome.


TRILCon 2017


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On the 3rd May 2017, members of the UnBias project including myself attended the 4th Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information and the Law at the University of Winchester in Hampshire. The event brought together legal and technology scholars, industry practitioners, and policy makers, to discuss the overarching theme of “Artificial and De-Personalised Decision-Making: Machine-Learning, AI and Drones”. With keynotes from Professor Katie Atkinson (Professor of Computer Science at the University of Liverpool) and John McNamara (Senior Inventor and Innovation Centre Technologist Lead at IBM), the day involved a broad range of talks from various viewpoints. And with the day starting with a detailed discussion of baseball from a machine learning perspective (the Popov v Hayashi case of ball ownership!), and including an IoT space probe resembling BB-8, it was a very interesting and entertaining day.

An excellent summary (including mention of our project) of one of the major issures covered throughout the day can be found by Michael Cross in the Law Gazette, so I will just add a summary of the events I attended.

The first session we attended was on Artificial intelligence, decision-making, and the protection of human interests. First Kieron O’Hara discussed why it is so difficult to agree about privacy (what it is, who it effects, how important it is etc.) and provided some suggestions as to how to unify consideration of the concept from different disciplines and viewpoints. This was followed by Marion Oswald introducing a framework for assessing algorithmic tools which was developed in collaboration with Durham police – ALGO-CARE. I didn’t write down what the acronym stands for but it seemed like an interesting way to consider the development and use of tools in order that the decision-making remains in the hands of the human rather than the machine.

filter bubble 2

Filter bubble

The second morning session we chose was on ‘Data power and its regulation’, which started with a very interesting take on the Facebook news feed from a critical theory angle by Niall Doherty. It was nice to see him use one of the images we used in our sessions with young people to explain the filter bubble, but a lot of the deeper theory went straight over my head. This was followed by Reuben Binns discussing third party tracking on the web and in apps, another interesting topic for our work with young people in UnBias.

After one of the best buffet lunches that I have ever had at a conference, and being introduced to a space probe, we ran a workshop for the UnBias project. Providing a series of questions to consider trust, transparency and bias in systems used for legal decision-making (for example to predict reoffending), we split the participants into two groups and had some very interesting discussions, before presenting some of the results from our studies to date. Things they were asked to think about included the potential consequences of using algorithms in such decision making; whether humans or algorithms are more prone to bias; the issue of transparency versus the proprietary argument given by companies; and how to assess and ‘police’ fairness. We were particularly interested in how to make transparency meaningful, as simply making code open-source or releasing such details to the user is not necessarily very meaningful.

The day ended with a panel discussion and audience participation summing up our thoughts on the day, what we had learnt, and questions that have been raised. Overall, it was a worthwhile and interesting day. Also, Winchester is ridiculously lovely and I very much would like to go back. I was able to go down the day before and have a little explore. I saw the Round Table that my granddad’s coffee table is based on, which was quite moving, and the whole town is full of amazing old buildings and statues.

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Naked guy on a horse. As you do.

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Making good use of the Round Table.


It’ll Probably Be Fine.

round table

My coffee table is much smaller than this.

Having just recovered from two stomach bugs (thanks, Ellie!), I am about to embark on a mental few weeks in which I am in my office for two days out of a possible thirteen working days (twenty actual days), going to five different places including abroad. It’ll probably be fine. It will most definitely be fun. But I’m fully anticipating complete exhaustion by the end.

First. Easter. It all starts off pretty nicely, with a friend coming over tomorrow for board games, food, and wine. Then my mum arrives on Saturday with my aunt and uncle and we will all go for a lovely lunch; mum is staying until Monday so I will cook up an Easter storm on Sunday.

Second. Oxford. On Tuesday I’m heading to Oxford to present at a seminar on Wednesday. Looking forward to spending some time in my favourite city among museums and architecture and other such joys.

Then. The week after I will be in Vienna for two nights, probably spending my days sitting in a cafe and working on my thesis among more museums and architecture (and wine).

That Friday, the day after we get back, we are going to the Yorkshire Dales for the bank holiday weekend, staying with a large group of friends and colleagues in a bunkhouse, where no doubt much wine/whisky/rum/etc will be consumed and various walks will be completed.

Then. We get back from Yorkshire on Monday lunchtime-ish and on Tuesday morning I am heading straight down to Winchester to attend and help run a workshop on Wednesday at the 4th Winchester Conference on Trust, Risk, Information, and the Law. Going early means I will get to see Arthur’s round table in the Great Hall (above), which I have a replica of as a coffee table, left to me by my granddad and much loved my whole life.

From Winchester I will fly to Glasgow to attend the CREATe Early Career Research Camp, before getting the train back on Friday night. I also have a paper and an abstract to submit in this time.

I fully intend to blog about all of these things (particularly the three work trips) after they happen, so watch this space. If you want to. I mean, I’m not going to force you.


Copyright and online artists

Content-sharing service

Chainsawsuit by Kris Straub. Image source.

I was recently contacted by the lovely people at Justis One, a legal research database and resource site, who were interested in a paper I published in May in the online journal First Monday called “How relevant is copyright to online artists? A qualitative study of understandings, coping strategies, and possible solutions“.

As a result a blog post ‘interview’ has now been published over on their site. I’m really please they found the paper and were interested enough to get in touch, and I hope it will lead to others looking into this important issue. In the meantime, you can read the article here.

I drew a Venn Diagram…

Websites used for webcomics

…It includes all of the websites that were identified by the respondents to my very first questionnaire for my thesis. It’s really hard to read because the writing has to be so small, so whilst I was planning on putting it in my thesis it may end up banished to the Appendices. I am quite pleased with it as it gives a much better idea of how people get their webcomics fix than writing about it which has become very convoluted and confusing.

Anyway, I like it, and I thought some people might be interested in it, and I didn’t want it to go to waste, so enjoy!

The questions that lead to these websites asked what people used to access or post either a) webcomics b) additional content related to a specific webcomic or c) additional content related to webcomics in general. I had 209 responses to the whole questionnaire including 92 creators. It was done in 2013.