Honor Among Thieves: How 19th Century American Pirate Publishers Simulated Copyright Protection

Economics of Governance

23 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2021 Last revised: 24 Dec 2022

Date Written: December 22, 2022

Abstract

From 1790 to 1891, the United States prevented foreign authors from obtaining domestic copyright protection, implicitly subsidizing a domestic reprinting industry. With foreign works a "free" and unprotected resource, American publishers created a system of voluntary norms, known as "trade courtesy" to create and enforce pseudo-property rights in uncopyrighted foreign works, simulating the effects of legal copyright protection. This paper analyzes this system using the Bloomington School's institutional design principles to understand its effectiveness and pitfalls in managing the commons of unprotected foreign works in 19th Century America.

Keywords: Copyright, intellectual property, literary piracy, publishing, economic history, commons

JEL Classification: H41, K29, N40, O34

Suggested Citation

Safner, Ryan, Honor Among Thieves: How 19th Century American Pirate Publishers Simulated Copyright Protection (December 22, 2022). Economics of Governance, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3775330 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3775330

Ryan Safner (Contact Author)

U.S. Copyright Office ( email )

101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
COP/REG
Washington, DC 20559-0001
United States

HOME PAGE: http://ryansafner.com

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