An Empirical Study of 225 Years of Copyright Registrations
81 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2019 Last revised: 4 Aug 2020
Date Written: July 1, 2019
This project provides the first comprehensive empirical study of copyright registrations and renewals over the entire scope of American History since the Constitution. Previous pieces began the process of answering what is perhaps the key question about copyright – to what degree does it provide an incentive to produce new creative works – but by drawing on a substantially more robust set of materials, we glean new insights and observe new relationships between copyright and broader economic trends. The first part of this project is the compilation of yearly tallies of copyright registration filings into a new dataset. This dataset includes information on registrations, in as much granularity as possible, including data for the years 1790 through 1870 that was never before tabulated, as well as renewal filings from 1909–2005. To provide context for this dataset we provide a history of copyright registration in America, and compare this narrative history to our dataset to see how yearly tallies were, or were not, impacted. This interdisciplinary approach allows us to make a number of new findings about the trajectory of copyright registrations over the 225 year period. Of particular interest is the positive relationship we find between expected maximum term of copyright and copyright registrations, up to a term of 75 years. We also find that the 1909 Copyright Act led to a profound shift in the relationship of copyright registrations to economic activity. Yearly copyright registrations were elastic relative to the GDP and population before 1909 and became significantly inelastic thereafter.
Keywords: copyright, intellectual property, empirical
JEL Classification: K
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