Stage TWO!

It is time to break the emerging radio silence with some positive news – I have just passed my first year panel and now have formal confirmation that I may proceed with my PhD!  Not only that but I also received a good chunk of constructive feedback and prompts for further consideration. I had only anticipated a few of the questions which were put forward yesterday, including the obvious one of how I could narrow down my proposed study. A PhD colleague of mine remarked, after I spoke to him about my panel, that ‘ambitious’ (as my proposed research agenda was described) is a word that we usually like to identify with, unless it becomes the label for our research proposal. “Then it just suggests that we have no idea what we’re doing”, he said. It amused me, but I perceive ‘ambitious’ more as a positive word of encouragement than anything else.

Still, while I have at least tentative plans for what I will do, my faithful reader does not yet know as I have mainly reflected on copyright policy developments until now. In brief, my doctoral research project is on creators’ organisations, i.e. organisations, whose membership is comprised of creators, whose values and goals reflect the interests of creators, and who have a strong influence on creators’ practice. Such organisations include trade unions, professional associations and collecting societies. I am interested in exploring how they operate to represent and further the interests of creators and what they achieve in the context of traditional and emerging business models in which creators partake. I also hope to be able to conceptualise and propose how these organisations can improve their services and overall contribution.


Image available under CC BY-SA 3.0 by Wikimedia Foundation

I proposed to investigate these questions through a socio-legal research approach, conducting two broad case studies on organisations from the music and publishing industries using multiple methods including document analysis, interviews and observation. Within this blog post, I will reflect on one of the challenges, which my panel identified, something which had nagged me too but which I had not quite managed to articulate clearly. It concerns the requirements of the research approach (socio-legal) which I have chosen.

In an essay entitled “Four Quadrants of Jurisprudence”, published in 1994, Neil MacCormick distinguishes between four points of reference in thinking of and understanding law. He labels these ‘raw law’, ‘doctrinal law’, ‘law in social science’ and ‘fundamental values and principles’. For the purpose of my research I am interested in the category of ‘law in social science’. This approach allows for the study of ‘raw law’, i.e. the plurality of activities that gives scholarly law-constructs the anchoring that they have in the real world (MacCormick 1994: 55) through the methods of the social sciences.

I argue that by studying the activities of creators’ organisations through observation, interviews and document analysis, I would be studying the ‘living law’, or, as proponents of socio-legal studies also describe it, the ‘law in action’.

However, a fair question, which was raised in my panel yesterday was– how will my project and the evidence that I collect speak to the law? What is the legal issue that I intend to offer some solutions for? Is it related to IP law or to the law which governs the organisations that I wish to study?

In my view, the idea behind these questions is that socio-legal research should ultimately serve the purpose of delivering evidence to address a certain issue of law. In MacCormick’s terms, social science research on law should contribute to the shaping of our law-constructs by ensuring that any policy decisions made to change the law are evidence-based.


Image available under CC BY-SA 4.0 by Michael Barera

Perhaps, 10 months into my doctoral research, having read dozens of studies pertaining to creators and their organisations and having gone through various books on research design, methodology and qualitative data analysis, I am already struggling to see the forest for the trees. It is time to return once more to the literature on copyright and intellectual property, but also to sociological and institutional studies of organisations, in order to successfully address the issue highlighted in my panel and thus better focus my research and upcoming data collection.

Reference: MacCormick N, ‘Four Quadrants of Jurisprudence’ in W Krawietz, N MacCormick and G H von Wright (eds), Prescriptive Formality and Normative Rationality in Modern Legal Systems: Festschrift for Robert S Summers (Drucker und Humblot 1994) 53