Authors' Welfare: Copyright as a Statutory Mechanism for Redistributing Rights

44 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2004

See all articles by Tom W. Bell

Tom W. Bell

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law


Copyright exhibits means and ends remarkably similar to those of social welfare programs. Yet discussions about copyright do not tend to echo discussions about welfare. This paper examines that interesting contrast. It begins by comparing social welfare policy to copyright policy, uncovering several material parallels. Both welfare and copyright primarily aim to correct the market's failure to sufficiently support a particular class of beneficiaries. Both encourage rights-based claims to the entitlements that they create, too. The welfare system and the copyright system each uses statutory mechanisms to redistribute rights - rights to wealth in the first instance, rights to chattels and persons in the second - from the general public to particular beneficiary classes - the poor and authors, respectively. Each also includes special exceptions designed to avoid inefficient or inequitable redistributions. The charitable gift deduction and other tax code provisions limit the welfare system's scope, whereas copyright law offers fair use and other defenses to infringement claims. Perhaps those and other similarities between welfare and copyright mean little. After considering various critiques, however, the paper concludes that we can learn important lessons from understanding copyright as a statutory mechanism for redistributing rights. Most notably, understanding copyright as a form of authors' welfare suggests the need for, and potential shape of, reforms to end copyright as we know it.

Keywords: Copyright, social welfare, redistribution, market failure, public policy

JEL Classification: H41, H53, I3, K39, 034

Suggested Citation

Bell, Tom W., Authors' Welfare: Copyright as a Statutory Mechanism for Redistributing Rights. Available at SSRN:

Tom W. Bell (Contact Author)

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
714-628-2503 (Phone)
714-628-2576 (Fax)


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