|Title:||Property rights and the efficient exploitation of copyrighted works: an empirical analysis of public domain and copyrighted fiction best sellers|
|Author(s):||Heald, P. J.|
|Citation:||Heald, P. J. (2007). Property rights and the efficient exploitation of copyrighted works: an empirical analysis of public domain and copyrighted fiction best sellers. UGA Legal Studies Research Paper, (07-003).|
|Link(s):||Definitive , Open Access|
|Key Related Studies:|
|Linked by:||Erickson, Heald, Homberg, Kretschmer and Mendis (2015), Erickson, Kretschmer and Mendis (2019)|
|About the Data|
|Data Description:||The primary data set consists of 334 bestselling books collected from three sources. Most titles, approximately fifteen per year, were taken from the end-of-year top-ten best seller lists compiled by Publisher’s Weekly, a major print trade publication as reported by Hackett (1967). This list was supplemented by a second prominent year-by-year listing of popular American books and music (Mattfield, 1962) and by the all-time best sellers list complied by Publisher’s Weekly.|
|Data Type:||Primary and Secondary data|
|Secondary Data Sources:|
|Data Collection Methods:|
|Data Analysis Methods:|
|Cross Country Study?:||No|
|Government or policy study?:||No|
|Time Period(s) of Collection:||
Economists and policymakers have recently defended the extension of copyright protection to assure the efficient exploitation of existing works. They assert that works in the public domain may be under-exploited due to the lack of property rights or over-exploited due to congestion externalities. This study compares the availability, number of editions, and prices of 166 public domain bestsellers published from 1913-1922 with 168 copyrighted bestsellers from 1923-32. It also compares the 20 most enduringly popular public domain works from 1913-22 with the 20 most enduring popular protected works from 1923-32. A significantly higher percentage of the public domain books are still in print, with significantly more editions available per book, and for the sub-set of especially durable works, the public domain works are significantly less expensive. Although the data show that rates of availability for both kinds of books are likely sensitive to reductions in the cost of duplication and distribution, the study concludes that protection of fiction beyond the period necessary to ensure its creation is not justified by concerns about under-exploitation. The possibility of congestion presented by the data is also tentatively rejected.
Main Results of the Study
- Although the general trend for both sets of works shows increased availability over time, there is no statistically significant difference between the availability of the public domain works and copyrighted works between1988-2001. Around 2001, however, the public domain works trend sharply upwards in terms of in-print status, reaching 98% in 2006, while only 74% of the books in the copyrighted data set are in print in 2006.
- Something significant happened around 2001. Comparative availability varies between 1988 and 2001, with some years showing more public domain books in print, and other years showing more copyrighted books in print. On the average, the copyrighted books are ten years younger than the public domain books, which may have resulted in marginally increased demand, driving up their availability. On the other hand, publishers of public domain books did not have to pay a licensing fee, which made those titles marginally cheaper to print. In 2001, the availability curves disentangle and the in-print status for public domain works approaches 100% in 2004-2006. It may be that improvements in optical scanning technology and software, lower costs of that technology, and the emergence of new business models allowed publishers of public domain materials to take advantage of the royalty-free status of such works, making it possible to satisfy the small demand for the least popular titles in the data set.
Policy Implications as Stated By Author
- The data presented herein clearly suggest that the public domain status of popular books does not result in under-exploitation. Although the public domain books in the data set are on the average ten years older than the copyrighted books, they are in print at a higher rate and have more editions available by more different publishers. If one considers only the sub-set of the most valuable books, then a significant difference in price can be measured, confirming economists’ suspicions about deadweight losses associated with the extension of copyright protection. The only arguable benefit to offset these losses would be the reduction of possible congestion externalities. In the context of books (unlike trademarks and perhaps celebrity personae) where the public is never forced to overconsume the product, it seems highly unlikely that the multiplicity of editions shown in the data demonstrate any such externalities.
- In general, the data show a highly competitive and robust market for the production of public domain books. Markets for other products, such as movies, music and software, where technology has made the cost of reproduction extremely low, are likely to behave in much the same way. Although market failure is possible, the burden should be on the party arguing in favor of central control of the production of a good in an apparently competitive market.
Coverage of Study
|Level of aggregation:||Books|
|Period of material under study:||2006|