NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music since Napster

Joel Waldfogel

NBER Working Paper No. 17503
Issued in October 2011
NBER Program(s):   IO   LE

Recent technological changes may have altered the balance between technology and copyright law for digital products. While file-sharing has reduced revenue, other technological changes have reduced the costs of bringing creative works to market. As a result, we don’t know whether the effective copyright protection currently available provides adequate incentives to bring forth a steady stream of valuable new products. This paper assesses the quality of new recorded music since Napster, using three independent approaches. The first is an index of the quantity of high-quality music based on critics’ retrospective lists. The second and third approaches rely directly on music sales and airplay data, respectively, using of the idea that if one vintage’s music is better than another’s, its superior quality should generate higher sales or greater airplay through time, after accounting for depreciation. The three resulting indices of vintage quality for the past half-century are both consistent with each other and with other historical accounts of recorded music quality. There is no evidence of a reduction in the quality of music released since Napster, and the two usage-based indices suggest an increase since 1999. Hence, researchers and policymakers thinking about the strength of copyright protection should supplement their attention to producer surplus with concern for consumer surplus as well.

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Acknowledgments

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Published: Joel Waldfogel, 2012. "Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music since Napster," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(4), pages 715 - 740.

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