A Reconsideration of Copyright's Term

56 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019 Last revised: 18 Jul 2023

See all articles by Kristelia García

Kristelia García

Georgetown University Law Center

Justin McCrary

Columbia University - Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 21, 2019


For well over a century, legislators, courts, lawyers, and scholars have spent significant time and energy debating the optimal duration of copyright protection. While there is general consensus that copyright’s term is of legal and economic significance, arguments both for and against a lengthy term are often impressionistic. Utilizing music industry sales data not previously available for academic analysis, this article fills an important evidentiary gap in the literature. Using recorded music as a case study, we determine that most copyrighted music earns the majority of its lifetime revenue in the first 5-10 years following its initial release (and in many cases, far sooner than that).

Our analysis suggests at least two results of interest to legislators, lawyers, and scholars alike: First, it contributes to the normative debate around copyright’s incentive-access paradigm by proposing a more efficient conception of copyright’s term for information goods; namely, one that replaces the conventional “life plus” durational standard with one based on the commercial viability of the average work. Second, it demonstrates that advocates’ and legislators’ tendency to focus on atypical works leads to overprotection of the average work, suggesting that copyright’s term is not nearly as significant for copyright owners as conventional wisdom submits.

Keywords: copyright, intellectual property, law and economics, economics, Poisson regression, empirical

JEL Classification: C10, C40, K00, K10, K19, K39

Suggested Citation

García, Kristelia and McCrary, Justin, A Reconsideration of Copyright's Term (March 21, 2019). Alabama Law Review, Forthcoming, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 19-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3357965

Kristelia García (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

Justin McCrary

Columbia University - Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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