IP licensing key to driving cultural, creative industry growth
This article appeared originally in the EJ Insight on 3 November, 2022.
Authors: Helen So, Lead for Arts and Culture, and Yolanda Lam, Assistant Researcher at Our Hong Kong Foundation
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There were many new initiatives and KPIs pertaining to the arts, culture and creative industries in Policy Address 2022. And it would be hard to miss the Government’s emphasis on ‘industry development’ this time. Some targeted measures include setting up a Culture Commission to formulate a Blueprint for Arts and Culture and Creative Industries Development, providing funding to support graduates with industry placement opportunities, and revamping existing funding schemes – like the CreateSmart Initiative – to further expedite commercial developments of arts and culture, among others.
For us, the dark horse this year is the one which tasked the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau (CSTB) and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) to improve the Asia IP Exchange portal (AsiaIPEX) to facilitate copyright trading.
AsiaIPEX, developed and managed by HKTDC since 2013, is a government-led online portal and database that assembles over 28,000 tradeable Intellectual Property (IP) listings, with aims to strengthen international IP trading and push the city to becoming “Asia’s IP trading hub.” However, since its inception, AsiaIPEX platform has not been fully utilised to facilitate cultural IP activities.
For one, listings of cultural and creative works have been incomprehensive thus far. For instance, it displays publications and audio-visual works pertaining to film and animation, but there are no musical works. The portal also lacks a detailed categorisation of copyright items which rendered it difficult to navigate.
Indeed, IP is the currency of cultural and creative trade, whose developments lie at the heart of a thriving ecosystem. A well-developed IP protection and trading regime could be essential to unlocking the economic potential of our cultural and creative industries, fuelling their motivation to create, and contributing to part of Hong Kong’s culture “going-out” mission.
More importantly, commercial IP activities for the arts don’t mean compromising artistic excellence, and we shouldn’t put it up against more “serious” cultural efforts like heritage preservation. On the contrary, it could be a way to keep traditional cultures thriving in the contemporary world.
We find museums to be a place where IP exchanges and licensing can easily take place. In a current exhibition, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum partnered with the Dunhuang Academy, to showcase the artefacts and history of the Dunhuang Grottoes. Little did we know that the Dunhuang Academy, a national institution dedicated to protecting the world heritage site, adopts exactly IP licensing as one of its approaches towards heritage preservation.
Back in 2017, the Dunhuang Academy sealed a strategic partnership with Tencent, which allows the tech company to revitalise Dunhuang’s museum IP. This includes creating games, music, animation, education programmes and other creative products featuring Dunhuang relics. In 2020, Tencent Pictures and Tencent Animation turned the classic murals of Mogao Grottoes into an animated series, where internet users could participate in the dubbing process; and this year, the partnership also launched Dunhuang’s first virtual ambassador, who will appear in live broadcasts of exhibitions and tour guides, appealing to young, dynamic and digitally savvy audiences.
This new lease of life for museums’ cultural IP indicates that traditional cultures can find their place in modern society, and that cultural IP – in this case, heritage materials – are agents of soft power, with licensing a way to widen their reach and promote cultural curiosity, awareness and exchange beyond borders.
Museums have long been using licensing to rally for a source of advertisement and revenue stream, but more importantly, to drive tourism, reach international audiences and attract younger generations. Priscilla Wong, founder of Hong Kong-based licensing company Long Wise Inc. – which was Asia’s sole carrier for Vincent Van Gogh’s artwork – shares that museums that do well can sell two to three times more in their IP-licensed products than their regular ticketing. Further, according to a 2019 study by the Beijing Institute of Culture Innovation and Communication, people under the age of 35 are the most active consumers of high-tech cultural IP products.
These trends come at a good time, considering a promised 27% increase in the number of public museums by 2032 (from 15 to 19) per Policy Address 2022.
Hong Kong surely has the potential to truly elevate itself into a hub for creativity, starting with extending the strategic foci of creative IP trading through AsiaIPEX.
To offer an additional point of reference, in mainland China, cultural IP licensing is facilitated by IP365X, a third-party business matching platform with over 2000 domestic and international IP. Supported by the government, the platform enables licensing in 16 cultural and creative industries (such as film, gaming, fashion and museum), and serves as a bridge between IP licensees and licensors. The Korea Creative Content Agency is among its partnering organisations, which hopes to open doors for Korean cartoons in the Chinese market.
Leveraging the economic potential of cultural IP presents subtle but potent cultural influence. Tapping into licensing means captivating worldwide audiences through international brands and artists, and broadening avenues for more locals to enter the field of cultural and creative business.