Skip to main content

Copyright and Innovation in the Developing World

This project will provide evidence to support governments grappling with intellectual property issues in an age of user-generated content on the Internet. It will explore the difference copyright law makes to economic, social, and cultural outcomes. User content as revenue generator The Internet is an engine for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative expression. Some of the largest and most influential companies in the world, such as Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon, have achieved success because of their savvy use of the Internet. For many companies, revenues rely on a business model that enables and repackages user- generated content. This refers to any form of content such as video, blogs, digital images, audio files, and other media that are created by end users. Research shows that the majority of Internet users create and generate original photos and videos. YouTube, the site that uses the most bandwidth on the Internet, relies entirely on user-generated content. Questions about ownership and profit As user-generated content becomes a commodity of increasing importance for business, new questions are emerging. Who owns the content? How can individuals and companies reuse and repurpose digital content? Who can profit from it? Who is liable when others infringe on legal ownership of content? Governments around the world are attempting to answer these questions, as they are key to creating the conditions for economic growth and innovation in the digital economy. However, answers are not easy to find. Stronger protections or greater flexibility? Debate on the role of intellectual property in the Internet economy can be summarized in two polarized positions. On the one hand, there is greater pressure to strengthen existing intellectual property protections. The media industry has called for stricter intellectual property protections to combat digital piracy and secure revenues over the past two decades, as produced content moves increasingly online, sometimes through illegal reproductions. As a result, many countries have enacted stricter intellectual property legislation. On the other hand, some experts call for greater flexibilities in the use of intellectual property protections to enable innovation and entrepreneurship. Google, which owns YouTube, might not exist if intellectual property laws were stricter in the US. Consequently, some governments have enacted, or are considering, flexible fair use intellectual property legislation to harness user innovation. Project methodology This project will build a transnational index of changes in copyright law in 50 countries. This will allow for more rigorous analysis of relationships between these formal legal environments and other development variables. The dataset will include laws, policies, and administrative actions related to changes in copyright law that can support a wide range of research on the social and economic impact of specific legal provisions. The research team will measure the impact of changes to copyright regimes on the behaviour of firms using econometric studies. They will develop sector-specific studies in India, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile to explore new forms of payment and rewards for developing-country creators who distribute their content globally.

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
24 months
IDRC Officer
Fernando Perini
Total Funding
CA$ 674,900.00
South America
Networked Economies
Networked Economies
Institution Country
Project Leader
Claudio Ruiz
Organización no Gubernamental de Desarrollo, Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos en el Entorno Digital
Organización no Gubernamental de Desarrollo
Institution Country
United States
Project Leader
Sean Michael Flynn
The American University

Projects by Component Institution