Copyright Reversion to Authors (and the Rosetta Effect): An Empirical Study of Reappearing Books
60 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2017 Last revised: 21 Apr 2018
Date Written: December 8, 2017
Copyright keeps out-of-print books unavailable to the public, and commentators speculate that statutes transferring rights back to authors would provide incentives for the republication of books from unexploited back catalogs. This study compares the availability of books whose copyrights are eligible for statutory reversion under US law with books whose copyrights are still exercised by the original publisher. It finds that 17 USC § 203, which permits reversion to authors in year 35 after publication, and 17 USC § 304, which permits reversion 56 years after publication, significantly increase in-print status for important classes of books. Several reasons are offered as to why the § 203 effect seems stronger. The 2002 decision in Random House v. Rosetta Books, which worked a one-time de facto reversion of ebook rights to authors, has an even greater effect on in-print status than the statutory schemes. The estimated positive effect of reversion on the availability (in-print status) of titles in the full sample of 1909 books is 20-23%..
Keywords: books, authors, copyright, publishing, reversion, termination, rosetta, reversionary, ebooks
JEL Classification: K0, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation