The Impact of Reprography on the Copyright System

The Impact of Reprography on the Copyright System

STAN J. LIEBOWITZ - University of Texas at Dallas - Department of Finance & Managerial Economics

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    This is a report performed for the Canadian government in 1981 on the impact of copying (photocopying) on copyright holders. As far as I know, it was the first theoretical claim that copying might not hurt copyright holders, and might even benefit them, due to the concept of indirect appropriability. Although some of this material later appeared in articles in the JPE and AER, this is a more complete treatment focused on the copying issue. This report proposes a fairly simple model to explain what happens in markets where copying occurs. The key parameters turn out to be the variability in the number of copies made from each original, the degree of substitutability between the original and the copy, and whether or not the copyright holder can engage in price discrimination. Anyone interested in the issue of copying in the Internet era, or who wants to and be able to analyze behavior such as that associated with Napster, will want to read this.

Facts on copyright

  • This statute first accorded exclusive rights to authors rather than publishers, and it included protections for consumers of printed work ensuring that publishers could not control their use after sale.
  • The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works of 1886 first established the recognition of copyrights between sovereign nations (copyrights were also provided by the Universal Copyright Convention of 1952, but today this agreement is largely only of historical interest). There may be exceptions to this rule, depending on the nature of the work, whether it was created in the course of employment and the purposes for which the work was created.
  • Two major developments in the 14th and 15th centuries seem to have provoked the development of modern copyright. First, the expansion of mercantilist trade in major European cities and the appearance of the secular university helped produce an educated bourgeois class interested in the information of the day. This helped spur the emergence of a "public sphere," which was increasingly served by entrepreneurial "stationers" who would produce copies of books on demand. Second, Gutenberg's development of movable type and the development and spread of the printing press made mass reproduction of printed works quick and cheap. Before these two developments, the process of copying a work could be nearly as labor intensive and expensive as creating the original, and was largely relegated to monastic scribes.

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