Challenges for consultations

How many people actually think that copyright is important? How many people care about copyright? […] So actually, with something like this, how do you make copyright sexy?


Participants discussed a number of challenges that acted as barriers or obstacles for conducting good consultations. The challenges all affected the ability of consultations to achieve epistemic, democratic or ethical outcomes (see Perspectives on consultations). 

The challenges are categorised as follows: engaging all stakeholders; the uneven influence of different groups on the process; and the quality of debate. Each of the challenges was linked to the complicated political, economic and technological context for copyright consultations (see Context for consultations). 

Watch a video about the challenges for consultations here.

Engaging all stakeholders

Engaging all relevant stakeholders in consultations about copyright is a particularly difficult problem. Participants talked about the challenges associated with reaching the public, as well as smaller organisations and individuals.

Engaging the public

On the one hand, participants felt that the public were seen to have the right to provide input because they were affected by copyright.

I think that it can be very interesting if you can get people in who are not experts, because then you do get, sometimes, a picture that’s unexpected. I’m sure you do. [PU9]

On the other hand, participants recognised that there was no point in pursuing people who have no interest in a complex and sometimes inaccessible topic.

You don’t need only the structure, so the digital platforms and all the systems to put at the disposal of the citizen. But you need also aware citizens that are participative. So it’s not only about what you create, it needs to come also from the other side, from the part of the citizen, who needs to be engaged, active. [PU1]

The problem is that copyright is very complex, and creating simple messages that can be... I mean, it's a complicated thing to explain all these things in simple terms. [SH23]

Having evidence from people who weren’t properly informed was not particularly useful either.

I think it’s fine to canvass public opinion but how informed it would be depends on what the question is. There will be things that directly impact on the public, and why not canvass their views?  For the most part, copyright works at a B2B level and can be very obscure. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be involved, but I don’t know how meaningful it could be in all instances.’ [SH8]

The fact that there was no group acting on behalf of consumers was a further barrier to public involvement. 

We did away with the National Consumer Council, Consumer Focus, they were active and now it’s, the bonfire of the quangos. [...] So actually, who is it that represents, you know, the consumer - meaning, you know, the man in the street? [SH26]

Engaging small organisations and individuals

Aside from the general public, small businesses and individual creatives were also difficult to reach because they had other priorities. Responding to a consultation was not critical, and they often found it challenging to understand and interpret questions. Here, member organisations played an important role as ‘translators’ to make consultation documents accessible, and in gathering submissions from their members.  

We would always reach out to our members before drafting a consultation response. We send out monthly newsletters, and we would probably say, ‘If you have any ideas on this please feed into us’. In reality, we find that most of our members don’t engage with that sort of thing, because they are not copyright experts, and we don’t expect them to be. Our members engage in the type of campaigning which is a bit more understandable to them. [SH14]

Uneven influence of different groups

Many participants said they felt the influence of different groups depended on their access to resources and relationships at government level. They felt that  some industries and organisations had consistently more input than others because of this.

The importance of resources

Some participants explained the impact of the distribution of resources between citizens / activists and indsutry organisations (which could employ professional experts) as a general, and perhaps inevitable influence on the way consultations unfolded in practice. 

What is equal? [Voices] are all heard, but if you're more eloquent, if you're better resourced, if you're better prepared, then of course, you have… you both have the same right to speak, but you're fighting with unequal arms, that's the thing. [SH22]

A challenge for government

Some participants argued that the issue was not inequality, which was simply a result of existing structures. Instead, they focused on how government officials might manage or counter the potential for uneven influence. 

I don’t think voices are equal because it’s a stratified process, and I think it’s normal that not all voices are equal. What is important, I believe, is for the unequal parts to not disappear in the larger process. So they do not get cancelled somehow by an overarching or oversized power of other parts. [PU1]

Impact on evidence

If organisations had the resources to deliver the type of market-based evidence that consultations often ask for, they were also more likely to influence consultation processes. The comments made on this point reflected a feeling that the overall balance tended to favour larger rights holders and industries. Arguments from other sectors, such as education, the arts and individual creatives, who were affected differently by copyright law, were seen to be less powerful.

There is an awful lot of emphasis on functioning markets and so on, and so those stakeholders that fit into that mould are much more... The conversation with them is much more straightforward  [SH3]

When it comes to visual works, from our experience, they are hardly  thought about, nor are they taken into account when it comes to impact. It can be quite different because artistic works are exploited in a very different way to other forms of copyright works because [there is] one original. You don’t have that with music, you don’t have that with books because the way they are exploited is through multiples. [SH13]

Quality of debate

A final challenge to consultations was the lack of dialogue between representatives of different viewpoints. Consultations could foster dialogue, but participants argued that the structure of meetings and submissions tended to limit opportunities and instead, encouraged people to defend their position.

I think most of the people participating in these kinds of consultations, and participating generally in trying to influence policymaking, invest way too little time or effort in trying to understand the origin of policy positions of other stakeholders. The logic is often very simple, like, “I must disagree with them because we are opponents.” [SH21]

The fact that most people participate as organisational representatives, rather than individuals, also complicates their ability to speak out about their position. 

I think, also, from a business perspective, PR perspective, [...] you may respond to questions but not challenge because we’re told when we work as individuals, we act in a certain way. We’re free to communicate, we’re free to say what we want, but as soon as we work for an organisation, sort of, you know, there’s compliance in place, how we conduct business, how we communicate, what we say in that public arena. It’s suddenly very, very controlled. [PU3]