Copyright Law and Price Discrimination

77 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2001

Date Written: June 2001


I show that copyright law is intimately connected to price discrimination. First, price discrimination is common in markets for copyrighted works. Second, many features of copyright law affect resale or personal arbitrage and so influence the profitability of price discrimination. For example, the first sale doctrine and the fair use doctrine often facilitate arbitrage and discourage discrimination, while the derivative and public performance rights impede arbitrage and promote discrimination. Third, optimal copyright policy requires attention to the social costs and benefits from price discrimination.

I use models of price discrimination to unify the analysis of a wide range of copyright policy issues. I argue that public performance rights are desirable because they support fine-grained price discrimination and displace other forms of price discrimination that have greater social cost. I argue against a broad definition of the derivative right that includes movie merchandise. Movie merchandising usually imposes allocative and implementation costs with little offsetting benefit in terms of creative incentive. I show that personal copying and other activities possibly covered by fair use have mixed effects on price discrimination and social welfare. Finally, I argue that the importation right should not cover gray market goods and should not be used to facilitate geographic price discrimination.

Keywords: Copyright, price discrimination, arbitrage

Suggested Citation

Meurer, Michael J., Copyright Law and Price Discrimination (June 2001). Available at SSRN: or

Michael J. Meurer (Contact Author)

Boston University - School of Law ( email )

765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-353-6292 (Phone)
617-353-3077 (Fax)

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