NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Copyright and the Profitability of Authorship: Evidence from Payments to Writers in the Romantic Period

Megan MacGarvie, Petra Moser


This chapter is a preliminary draft unless otherwise noted. It may not have been subjected to the formal review process of the NBER. This page will be updated as the chapter is revised.

Chapter in forthcoming NBER book Economics of Digitization, Avi Goldfarb, Shane Greenstein, and Catherine Tucker, editors
Conference held June 6-7, 2013
Forthcoming from University of Chicago Press

Proponents of stronger copyright terms have argued that stronger copyright terms encourage creativity by increasing the profitability of authorship. Empirical evidence, however, is scarce, because data on the profitability of authorship is typically not available to the public. Moreover, at current copyright lengths of 70 years after the author’s death, further extensions may not have any effects on the profitability of authorship. To investigate effects of copyright at lower pre-existing levels of protection, this chapter introduces a new data set of publishers’ payments to authors of British fiction between 1800 and 1830. These data indicate that payments to authors nearly doubled following an increase in the length of copyright in 1814. These findings suggest that starting from low pre-existing levels of protection policies that strengthen copyright terms may, in fact, increase the profitability of authorship.

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This paper was revised on May 12, 2014

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w19521, Copyright and the Profitability of Authorship: Evidence from Payments to Writers in the Romantic Period, Megan MacGarvie, Petra Moser
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Koleman Strumpf
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