Friday, March 30, 2012

Copyright stagnation

Paul Heald demonstrated the effect of the stagnant US copyright wall in seminar at Canterbury last week.

Recall that books published through 1922 are in the public domain in the US; those published since then are covered by copyright.

Heald dug through some Amazon stats to see what happens to books as they come out of copyright. Here's the rather stunning graph.


So any arguments about underexploitation of unprotected works seem untenable.

If this were a moving wall, maybe it wouldn't be so bad: eventually, books would come out of copyright and be released in new editions. But Disney does keep going back and insisting that nothing can ever be returned to the Commons from which they so liberally drew, and Congress loves Disney; we might reasonably expect another copyright term extension act to keep the wall fairly rigid.

So while I can get Pride and Prejudice in remix with either vampires or zombies,* I'm not betting on being able to read a version of Good-bye, Mr. Chips in which he protects his students from the werewolf menace as well as offering them solace through the Great War. The werewolf version practically writes itself - the Germans infect some injured British soldiers with lycanthropy just after a full moon, knowing they'll be back in Britain by the next full moon....

Here's Paul's SSRN page. The chart above isn't in any of his released papers, but is an update to some of the matters he covered here. His talk for the department is embedded below; the audio isn't fantastic, but all the slides are there.


* Pride and Prejudice is unreadable except in remix.


Update: Paul Heald clarifies the chart source data:
Hi, I just wanted to note that Amazon does not know when a book it sells was first published. It only knows the date of publication of the volume that it is selling, e.g. Treasure Island could have a date of 2002, if that’s the edition Amazon is selling. I had to check each of the 2500 books at the Library of Congress to determine the actual initial publication date. This is why stats taken from an Amazon “year of publication” stats don’t match up. Cheers, Paul Heald
See also discussion at Marginal RevolutionMatthew YglesiasKevin DrumRebecca Rosen [made 8th most popular on The Atlantic's front page], Brian DohertyKevin Kelly, and FAIR. It's hit MemeorandumRedditHacker NewsThe Glittering Eye, the CEI's Open Economy BlogPolitikon, and LISNewsTopsy tracks the tweets; here are the +Ripples. And TechDirt.

29 comments:

  1. I'm about to learn how off topic it is possible to be.

    I quote:
    "As I am randomly likely to delete anonymous comments"

    I always wonder whether this is what you mean, or whether you mean "As I am likely to randomly delete anonymous comments."

    I suspect the latter, but arguably you roll a dice in the morning to decide whether or not today you're likely to delete anonymous comments.

    (Just because I see it every time I comment and chuckle to myself)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It means that I could have deleted your comment because you're anonymous, or because it was insane or defamatory, but I prefer to leave the reason ambiguous.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for letting Eric know, Paull. That is very funny. And, wow, you sure do demonstrate your grammatical superiority at the same time. I also was so very confused by the phrasing and really had a good laugh myself. This Eric fellow sure can be confusing.

    Good thing you point that out, bro.

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  3. Awesome graph! Thanks!

    I was a volunteer with Project Gutenberg in the 1990s, and we tried to inform people of the necessity of reforming copyright laws then. It is a bit late now, but it is gratifying to see that the public is gradually beginning to recognize just how bad perpetual copyright is.

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    Replies
    1. I would love to see something cool come of the differences in copyright dates between Australia and the US and differential book availability on Gutenberg across the two...

      Gutenberg rocks.

      Delete
  4. Shorten copyright to 20-25 years. Is there any good reason authors and the like should get longer protection than engineers, chemists, and the like? Shorten copyright, and do it retroactively. Make 2013 the great Jubilee year for copyright, moving the wall to 1990.

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, things seem to be going the other way, and US copyright terms are getting pushed on the rest of us via trade agreements.

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    2. Only because the Republicans are imbeciles. Copyright holders, by and large, are their enemies. Cutting off their supply lines is just good sound strategy. It's the logistical phase of the cultural war.

      Delete
    3. "Only because the Republicans are imbeciles."
      You moron, RIAA/MPAA MAFIAA groups give more money to Democrats than Republicans to insure not only that nothing new EVER goes into the public domain, but pass new, draconian copyright laws as well
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Berman
      "Berman is known for his staunch protection of copyright interests and his alliances with the entertainment industry; he is sometimes referred to as the "representative from Hollywood."[18] The major industry contributing to his election campaigns has been the entertainment industry.[19] He proposed legislation under which copyright holders would be able to employ technological tools such as file blocking, redirection, spoofs, and decoys—among others—to curb piracy (Peer to Peer Piracy Prevention Act). He has been named as one of the primary politicians involved in the creation of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)."

      Delete
    4. Anonymous,
      If the Republicans were wise, they'd hammer the copyrights down to the low 20s of years in length solely for the purpose of hammering their enemies. Did you not understand my comment?

      Delete
  5. Eric is cool, he has two dear little girls, and as we are New Zealanders
    we welcome, and wife, and he adventures bravely into our land.
    Eric works him and wife, and with his Academia, his work, University.
    he is Canadian.
    So many things he needs to know,.

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  6. Is it possible that this relationship between copyrights expiring and sales isn't causational? (No I didn't defend smoking) Maybe nothing good was written after 1920? I don't really believe this, but it made me wonder about the quality of recently written books. On the other hand, Disney's latest movie, John Carter, took advantage of an expired copyright. Seems kind of hypocritical.

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  7. According to Willa Cather "the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts"; so maybe jediptm is right. The Waste Land and Ulysses were published and it was all downhill after that... Pound, Picasso and Parker--or whatever Philip Larkin says.

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  8. Retroactive application of new laws is forbidden by the US constitution and the UDHR. "Nulla poena sine lege" as they say in Latin.

    ReplyDelete
  9. BecomingJulie,
    What I describe isn't really ex post facto any more than, say, changing the tax code immediately as of the 2013 tax year would be. It's just retroactive in the sense most people think of because it has no grandfather clause. That's intentional.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Disney's argument is a joke. Barely any movie I can think of was an original idea.

    I read about Germany and England before a century or so. While England had harsh copyright laws and literally published a handfull of books a year, Germany didn't have copyright laws and published 1000s of books every month. The effect was England had a few established authors that made lots of money and in Germany anyone would write about what they could (lots of manuals) but barely any author would make enough to live.

    creativity+participation vs money+constrictive law

    ReplyDelete
  11. I made a variant of the graph by targeting the entire Amazon.com corpus by using the advanced search tool on their website.

    http://bit.ly/Amazon_New_Books_Yearly

    Caveat: The plot trusts Amazon's self-reported publishing dates which apparently are inaccurate in some cases.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I counted paperback and kindle editions separately, and this is the result: amazon_books.png

      Note that 226 Kindle editions got publication date of Dec 31, 1899, and 623,023 paperbacks are reported to have been published on Jan 1, 1901. I bet that 54,602 paperbacks with publication date of Jan 1, 1900 is also an aberration.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Link still doesn't work. Will watch the comment moderation filter in case of update; comments on older posts auto-dump to a moderation queue.

      Delete
    4. This comment authoring system is not very friendly. Anyway, I have published my findings in my Russian blog, and all the graphs are displayed there.

      Delete
  12. Could the advent of radio, television and two world wars also have something to do with this gap?

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    Replies
    1. Exceedingly unlikely; you'd need a sudden drop in book quality coinciding with the current copyright wall. And there's no evidence of that.

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  13. WHAT HAPPENS TO AUTHORS' PAY?

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  14. This is a very misleading study. How could the effect of public domain on copyright be studied without studying or at least pointing out the mediums that those public domain works are subject to? For example, works up until 1922 were not easily accessible to consumers, whereas works from 2000 became easily accessible via the World Wide Web, which (how coincidental) boomed in 2000.

    This research needs revisiting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ummm... you know this is about current availability in the Amazon warehouse, right?

      Delete

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