Paul J. Heald

 

On his book Copy This Book! What Data Tells Us about Copyright and the Public Good

Cover Interview of December 02, 2020

The wide angle

Most of us don’t understand the profound impact copyright law has on our lives. Most have a sense that copyright protection should be designed to incentivize new creations, but we seldom think much about the actual content of the law. Or consider the shocking possibility that US copyright law might actually deter creativity, stifle availability, and raise prices for consumers.

Here’s a snapshot of new editions of books available on Amazon.com in 2011:


rorotoko.comNew editions on Amazon Paul J Heald, “How Copyright Keeps Works Disappeared,” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies

At the time the sample was taken, all books published in the US before 1923 were in the public domain. Because they are free for anyone to publish, even works from the 19th century are widely available. What about books from the 1930s to the 1980s? Why did they disappear? The best explanation is that their publishers let them go out of print. And since they are still protected by copyright, no one else can make them available. Copyright can make works disappear.

Copy This Book! also describes how copyright raises the price of books, deters the creation of derivative works like audio books, and stifles the creativity of composers, arrangers, and performers of music.

Stories of how copyright creates works with no discernable owners (“orphan works”) and how false claims of ownership of public domain works (“copyfraud”) deter the exploitation of the public domain, provide further illustrations of how badly calibrated US copyright negatively affects consumers and creators alike.

Copy This Book! is a happy wedding of my professional and public lives. Years of academic economic research have generated piles of data on the effect of copyright on public welfare, while years of novel writing (hopefully!) provide the book with a readable narrative style.