Paradise Lost? The Payment of British Authors in 19th Century America’s Copyright Wilderness
24 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2015 Last revised: 9 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 8, 2016
The payment by American publishers to British authors during the mid-19th century, when the works of British authors did not have any American copyright protection, has been presented as evidence that authors can be well paid without the need of copyright protection. The empirical support for this claim putatively comes from a UK Royal Commission Report published in 1878. In this paper I examine the evidence put forward in the Royal Commission Report, as well as data on payments to British Authors from a leading American publisher during the mid-1800s. This reexamination of the Royal Commission Report, combined with the examination of publishing costs, lead to a conclusion that most British authors were not paid by American publishers and the majority of those who were paid received considerably less than they would have received under copyright. Further, two additional historical factors, a cartel-like agreement among leading American publishers and an American market that was larger than the British market, make the instances of American payments to British authors an overestimate of the likely author payments that would exist in a world without copyright.
Keywords: copyright, publishing, Royal Copyright Commission, cartel
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