Buccafusco and Heald (2012)
|Buccafusco and Heald (2012)
|Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter the Public Domain?: Empirical Tests of Copyright Term Extension
|Buccafusco, C., Heald, P.
|Buccafusco, C., & Heald, P. J. (2012). Do Bad Things Happen When Works Enter the Public Domain: Empirical Tests of Copyright Term Extension. Berkeley Tech. LJ, 28, 1.
|Definitive , Open Access
|Key Related Studies:
|Aguiar and Waldfogel (2014), Reda (2015)
|About the Data
|For study 1, the authors compiled a list of bestselling novels that were published in the decade before (1913-22) and the decade after (1923-32): the copyright-public domain divide. All of the novels published between 1913 and 1922 have entered the public domain, while all of those published in or after 1923 are still subject to copyright protection. The list includes 171 public domain novels and 174 copyrighted novels, giving 345 in total. The goal was to collect a large enough sample of fiction from the same period that would support statistically meaningful analyses.
To test the underuse and overuse hypotheses the authors collected data on the availability and prices of audiobook versions of all 375 works. They searched the most widely used online retailers of audiobooks, Audible.com (owned and operated by Amazon.com) and Barnes and Noble, who sell versions in either CD or downloadable mp3 format. They also double-checked the results against the online listing published by Bowker’s Books in Print. The availability of free recordings of public domain novels from Librivox was also collected. Finally, in addition to noting the availability of titles, they computed the average prices of professional recordings across the different retailers.
For study 2, the authors recruited subjects through Amazon Mechanical Turk to listen to selections of audiobook recordings and to provide feedback on them, to test the tarnishment hypothesis. After agreeing to participate, the subjects were directed to the survey instrument that was hosted on the Qualtrics survey platform.
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The international debate over copyright term extension for existing works turns on the validity of three empirical assertions about what happens to works when they fall into the public domain. Our study of the market for audio books and a related human subjects experiment suggest that all three assertions are suspect. We demonstrate that audio books made from public domain bestsellers (1913-22) are significantly more available than those made from copyrighted bestsellers (1923-32). We also demonstrate that recordings of public domain and copyrighted books are of equal quality. While a low quality recording seems to lower a listener's valuation of the underlying work, our data do not suggest any correlation between that valuation and legal status of the underlying work. We also report important pricing data.
Main Results of the Study
Main findings:*Our data suggest that the three principal arguments in favor of copyright term extension—under-exploitation, over-exploitation, and tarnishment—are unsupported.*Public domain works were twice as likely to be available in audio book format, and for the sample of enduringly popular works, public domain titles were 20% more likely to be available. These data suggest that copyright status, in fact, seems to reduce availability, even for the most popular books.*If the argument for copyright term extension turns on the need for incentives to reproduce older works or create derivative works from them, then existing empirical evidence suggests that term extensions are not needed and are probably counter-productive.*There is little evidence that public domain books are being over-exploited and worn out due to their unprotected legal status. The average price of recorded books in the full public domain data set and the full copyrighted data set was virtually the same, suggesting that the value of the public domain works in comparison to their copyrighted counterparts had not been destroyed by overuse.*When consumers go to the three main sources for audiobooks (www.audible.com, Amazon, and Barnes & Nobles), they will likely find that the public domain books are equally well read as the copyrighted books. The data substantially undermines any claims of debasement in the most important market for audiobooks.*There seems little reason to fear that once works fall into the public domain, their value will be substantially reduced based on the amount or manner in which they are used. There are considerable benefits to users of open access to public domain works. We suspect that these benefits dramatically outweigh the costs.
Policy Implications as Stated By Author
Policy implications: *The copyright term extension debate will have substantial consequences for the creative industries and the consuming public. *If copyrighted works begin once again to enter the public domain, their owners will stand to lose millions of dollars in revenue. *But that revenue comes directly from consumers’ pockets and the expiration of valuable copyrights saves those consumer costs. *Perhaps more importantly, those works will be available to an army of creative artists who will be able to use them in their works in ways that were impossible while the works were copyrighted.
Coverage of Study
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