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
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: Suggested Citation