The complex economics of the public domain

Prominent economists (and US trade negotiators) assert that bad things happen when creative works fall into the public domain. They insist that works without owners to shepherd them will become inaccessible, worn out, or mis-used and, therefore, the term of copyright should continue to be extended. Yet, recent empirical studies show that books falling into the public domain become more accessible and unprotected music becomes more frequently used. Audiobooks are more likely to be produced from public-domain books, and the quality of public-domain audio versions is high. Moreover, econometric studies of public-domain photos prove how the absence of legal protection can be accurately measured in dollar terms. Behind each of these studies are fascinating histories of individual works in the marketplace. The complex economics of the public domain can be illustrated through those stories and told in a way that engages academics, policymakers, and the general public alike.

 

Project leader(s):
  • Paul Heald (College of Law, University of Illinois)

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