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Copyright in small and medium sized enterprises

Explore how UK creative businesses use public domain and licensed copyright materials as inputs to commercial innovation.
SUBJECT 1: My name is David Mingay. I’m a product lead and creative director at ustwo studios in London.
SUBJECT 2: My name is Rebecca Van Dal. I worked for Onilo, and Onilo is a digital library for schools.
SUBJECT 3: My name is Lawrence Anholt, and I’m a writer and an artist.
SUBJECT 1: I’ve been here for about four years now, and my background is actually in industrial design originally, making physical objects. And I’ve been doing the digital side of things about 15 years.
SUBJECT 2: We have just over 70 animated picture books, and they’re made especially for use in classrooms on the white boards that the schools have these days.
SUBJECT 3: I tried originally as a painter, but I moved probably 20, about 28 or 29 years ago, I moved into children’s books with my wife Catherine, and we’ve done that ever since.
So the series that I do, which is called the Anholt’s Artists series, there are 10 books in the series. In about half of them the artist is in copyright, Matisse, Picasso, and Chagall. And then the other half, the artist is out of copyright, so Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, and so on. So, yes that makes a difference.
SUBJECT 1: ustwo are very strong users of stuff in public domain, and you know whether that’s code or imagery. For example, Dice uses a lot of the publicly available APIs and service systems. I think we’ve got about 12 or 14 different ones plugged in. Some of them are free. Some of them are open source. Some of them you have to pay an amount. But, that’s really important for us, is to see what’s out there first. There’s no point reinventing the wheel if you’re developing a whole product. So we’re pretty well-versed at looking at the latest, leading edge stuff.
But more often than not, some of this stuff is free to use, as long as you give the right credit to the author, and pass that on. So that’s massively important to us because it’s not only Dice, but it’s also client engagement. So we make sure that clients are aware that we may use third party codes or other systems, and as long as we give the right acknowledgement, and we make sure we applied it in the right way, using public domain stuff where appropriate, and where useful is very important.
SUBJECT 2: So we’ve got just over 70 stories, and about 10% of them are based on characters and stories that are out of copyright. And all the remaining stories we buy from publishers in the UK and also in Germany where our head office is based. The public domain stories that we do use are mainly fairy tales and classic tales, which suits us perfectly because those stories are very much in demand in school, and they’re also in the UK curriculum. They are things like the Billy Goats Gruff, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book.
SUBJECT 3: Well, the one thing I can tell you, which is quite interesting, is that some of the adaptations that have been of my books. For example, there have been a few animations. A big stage musical in Korea of my van Gogh book. Absolutely fantastic. And in those cases, the creative people behind it, the animators, the producers of the stage productions, did not want to go near the Picasso or the Matisse books because they just thought it would be way too difficult. So, they could quite freely get in there and produce a wonderful stage production about van Gogh, looked absolutely fantastic, and they were completely free to do that.
So, it has held me back, in some ways, doing artists that are in copyright.
SUBJECT 2: One thing that makes a big difference to us, is how quickly can we take the story to market? While we haven’t encountered any problems with our third party publishers, of course it’s easier if you do not have to spend the time on paper work and negotiation, and you can get going straight away on the animation and the selling of the story. So the first stories that we’ve put in our library, those were the ones that are out of copyright, because it’s much quicker to get that to market and to make it available to schools.
SUBJECT 3: Well, the benefit of using out of copyright work is that you have complete freedom. It’s something that’s in the public domain. You have the freedom to use it as you want to. To reinvent it. And I think when something is out of copyright, then it becomes part of our sort of general cultural heritage, which is a wonderful thing. It’s something that we all take for granted, but any one of us, any creative person at any time is dipping into that great big pool of our cultural heritage. I think we’re all influenced by what’s gone on in the past. Nobody is completely original.
And so, to be able to dip into that, and use ideas very freely, is what artists do.
This video explores the use of public domain and licensed copyright materials as inputs to commercial innovation. Interviews with successful UK media firms reveal how the availability of certain expressions, such as open source software and out of copyright artistic works, can be combined with new artistic inputs to generate commercial products. The video was supported by funding from the ESRC project, ‘Valuing the Public Domain’ (ES/K008137/1), led by CREATe at the University of Glasgow.
In this video we ask: • What products do you create? • Does your business work with copyright material owned by others? • What is your experience working with public domain materials?
Interviews with: David Mingay, Ustwo Studios – Digital Product Studio Rebecca Van Dal, Onilo – Animated Picture Books Lawrence Anholt, Writer and Artist
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