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

Posted: 14 Oct 2011  

Joel Waldfogel

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Economics

Date Written: October 2011

Abstract

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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Suggested Citation

Waldfogel, Joel, Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music Since Napster (October 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17503. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1944001

Joel Waldfogel (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Carlson School of Management ( email )

19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Department of Economics ( email )

271 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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