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Does Copyright Law Promote Creativity? An Empirical Analysis of Copyright’s Bounty

Posted by on Monday, November 30, 2009 in Articles, Volume 62, Number 6, Volumes.

Modern copyright law is based upon a theory: increase copyright protection and you increase the number of creative works available to society. This theory has been the driving force behind an economic vision that has expanded, beyond all recognition, the original law created by the Statute of Anne. And with this expansion, we are told that the costs associated with copyright are worthwhile because of the bounty it produces. What if this theory could be tested? After all, this is not a question of faith or morality, nor is it a statement on how humans should behave; it is a theory about how humans do behave. In this Article, we use statistical analysis to test the theory that increasing copyright protection usually increases the number of new creative works. Relying upon U.S. copyright registrations from 1870 through 2006 as a proxy for the number of works created, we consider how four variables—population, the economy, legal changes, and technology—influenced subsequent copyright registrations. Our findings cast serious doubt on the idea that with copyright law, one size fits all. While individual legal changes may be associated with changes in subsequent copyright registrations, the overall relationship between changes in copyright law and registrations is neither consistent nor completely predictable.