Saturday, August 21, 2010

No copyright?

Via Tyler Cowen, an article in Der Spiegel outlines the hypothesis that Germany experienced rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to the absence of copyright law. Apparently, the publishing industry in Germany was far more vibrant and open to the masses than its counterpart in England, a difference that seems attributable to the legal disparity in copyright protection.

I'm no defender of current copyright law, but it's still important to understand that this historical episode won't necessarily generalize to the present day. The only reason German authors were able to earn any income at all was that reproduction carried costs: plagiarism was always a threat, but it wasn't free. Today, however, the costs of reproduction are rapidly approaching zero. Books wouldn't disappear if we eliminated copyright tomorrow, but the monetary incentives to become a successful author would vanish.

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