Measuring the effectiveness of copyright

How do we measure whether or not copyright is working? That’s one of the main reasons I came to doctoral school. We’re stuck in a legal and strict economic framework rut in a lot of ways, in my opinion. This makes sense in many ways; copyright is both a legal issue and is based on economic incentives. Talking with Georgia has helped me think about these things. Legal research generally uses legal analysis to advocate for or against a particular position, using statutes and case law as primary sources and other information as secondary sources. When we talk about copyright research, that’s the type of research that immediately comes to mind for many people. Economics often plays a big role in copyright-related research, and in my survey of copyright-related research this semester economics and business were the sources for a lot of the empirical data that has been gathered related to copyright. But I don’t think they’re measuring the right things much of the time, and I think they’re coming to the table with a lot of assumptions that are neither elucidated nor entirely correct. The kinds of things that tend to be measured are profit-related, sales related, or otherwise market-related. That’s useful information, but there’s more to looking at the effectiveness of copyright than those things. However, we don’t have good ways of structuring arguments that judges and policy-makers seem to find compelling about effects other than those that are strictly market-oriented. That’s a problem.

The paper I was referring to in an earlier post was based on a number of questions, including the above. I was attempting to look at research about how copyright affects education. I’m interested for a variety of reasons: my association with ALA, my knowing people in education both primary and secondary, and so on. But how are its affects on the missions and practices of educational institutions measured? There really hasn’t been a great deal of research in the area. There isn’t a lot of empirical research about copyright in education. There are some exceptions to the usual market-based information produced- and Siva’s Critical Information Studies bibliography is a perfect starting point for that kind of research. CIS in general is useful as both a lens to use when examining existing copyright research and as a framework for using other types of research. So, what are the appropriate metrics and methodologies that should be used?

How effectively is copyright doing it’s job? How effectively is it promoting the progress of science and useful arts? Is the economic incentive actually helping the dissemination of knowledge and promoting the creation and use of new works? As is often pointed out on Scrivener’s Error, publishers and authors are not the same- and a lot of copyright talk treats them the same. I found this recent post related to the Gowers Report out of the UK particularly interesting.


  1. Georgia Harper said,

    December 8, 2006 @ 6:22 pm

    hey Carlos, I was imagining a study of “things that get done” and “things that don’t get done” because of copyright, but I think the truth is that most people just do whatever they want and just ignore copyright, so you can’t even set up a study that would measure opportunity costs (works that don’t get made, quotes that don’t get included, handouts that don’t get handed out). That’s one of the things about copyright that’s fundamentally important — it’s a sieve and it’s intended to be a sieve. It isn’t supposed to be water-tight. If it were, in other words, when it gets to the point where it is perfectly enforceable, it will be intolerable. it only works b/c it isn’t rigidly enforced, in addition to the ideas of fair use, idea/expression, facts, first sale, etc. Now that could be measured, You could set that up right now. “how many x’s get made because no one will ever find out?” Later, “how many x’s get made when it’s impossible to make one without permission or paying a hefty fee to the copyright owner?” That would show the effect of the copyright. Well, there would be the variable of price, of course. “how many x’s get made at y price? How many at z price?” Hmmm. you could do that now.

  2. Carlos Ovalle said,

    December 8, 2006 @ 7:17 pm

    I suspect that some of those things re ignoring might be changing though- like you had mentioned earlier, copyright used to be something that people didn’t need to think about very much, but now they do. I know there are things that the library hadn’t been digitizing anything that was still in copyright.

    Yeah, I agree. Those are some of the things that might be easier to measure at first.

  3. Georgia Harper said,

    December 10, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

    I ran across this article today: The Value of the Public Domain that is written by an economist about measuring the value of the pd. It might give you some ideas about measuring the success of copyright, sort of in reverse.

  4. Georgia Harper said,

    December 10, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

    Hmm. I tried to insert the url for the article, but it didn’t work. It’s


  5. Seth said,

    August 2, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

    The copy reproduction for research and education is not an infringement from my understanding. Most libraries reproduce copyrighted materials.

  6. Seth said,

    August 2, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

    Oh,just noted the date of this article. Sorry. I was researching in google and this page came up.

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