Effects of Copyrights on Science - Evidence from the US Book Republication Program
Copyrights for books, news, and other types of media are a critical mechanism to encourage creativity and innovation. Yet economic analyses continue to be rare, partly due to a lack of experimental variation in modern copyright laws. This paper exploits a change in copyright laws as a result of World War II to examine the effects of copyrights on science. In 1943, the US Book Republication Program (BRP) granted US publishers temporary licenses to republish the exact content of German-owned science books. Using new data on citations, we find that this program triggered a large increase in citations to German-owned science books. This increase was driven by a significant reduction in access costs: Each 10 percent decline in the price of BRP book was associated with a 43 percent increase in citations. To investigate the mechanism by which lower book prices influence science, we collect data on library holdings across the United States. We find that lower prices helped to distribute BRP books across US libraries, including less affluent institutions. Analyses of the locations of citing authors further indicate that citations increased most for locations that gained access to BRP books. Results are confirmed by two alternative measures of scientific output: new PhDs and US patents that use knowledge in BRP books.
We wish to thank seminar participants at the Becker Friedman Institute, Berkeley, Columbia, Copenhagen, CUNY, the Economic History Association, the European Economic Association, EPIP, the Federal Trade Commission, Harvard, London Business School, Munich, MIT, NBER, Odense, Rutgers, Science Po, the US Department of Justice, NYU, Rutgers, Zurich, as well as Lionel Bently, Chris Buccafusco, Kirk Doran, Glenn Ellison, Paul Heald, Margaret Kyle, Ryan Lampe, Frank Mueller-Langer, Abishek Nagaraj, Armin Schmutzler, Fabian Waldinger, and Thomas Wollmann for helpful comments. We are particularly grateful to Jim Edwards for sharing company records and letters for the J.W. Edwards Company, and to Kathleen Smith for searching for historical copies of BRP books at Stanford’s Green Library. Jacob Hartwig, Hailey Kwon, Mark Walsh, and Jason Weitze provided outstanding research assistance. Moser gratefully acknowledges financial support from the National Science Foundation through CAREER grant 1151180 and from INet’s Grant for Copyright and Creativity. Biasi gratefully acknowledges support from the Gregory Terrill Cox Fellowship and the John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics at Stanford Law. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- WWII-era Book Republication Program lowered prices for German books, facilitating a broad geographical diffusion and utilization of...