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Intellectual property rights and artistic creativity

By Petra Moser

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More generally, our results suggest that narrowly defined intellectual property – in the form of copyright – can encourage innovation.

The effects of copyright laws on artistic creativity are difficult to identify. This column looks back at 19th century Lombardy and Venetia where, following annexation by Napoleon, basic copyright protection was adopted. The copyright laws raised both the quantity and quality of Italian opera. The findings have important implications for modern debates about protecting intellectual property.

This past summer Anish Kapoor, the creator of Chicago’s ‘Cloud Gate’ bean sculpture in 2006, demanded that the Chinese government take action against the town of Karmay in northwest China, which had unveiled a sculpture that looks remarkably similar to Kapoor’s bean. “It seems that in China today it is permissible to steal the creativity of others”, the artist complained. Unlike in Europe and the US, copyright protection is extremely low in China and many other parts of the world, and instances of piracy, such as in the case of the famous bean, are widespread.

Could the adoption of basic copyright laws in these countries encourage creativity? Analyses of piracy in popular music indicate no significant effects of copyright violations on sales or the quality of recorded music (Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf 2007, Waldfogel 2011a,b). But data constraints and the paucity of experimental variation in modern copyright laws make it difficult to identify the effects of adopting basic levels of copyright protection.

In recent research (Giorcelli and Moser 2015), we exploit quasi-experimental variation in the adoption of copyright laws – as a result of the timing of Napoleon’s military victories in Italy – to examine the effects of basic copyright protection on the quantity and quality of creative output. Lombardy and Venetia adopted copyright laws in 1801 after they fell under French rule. Due to the timing of their annexation, these two states remained the only ones in Italy to offer copyright until 1826, while six other Italian states continued to offer no copyright (see Figure 1).

Read more as published on VoxEU.

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Petra Moser is an Associate Professor of Economics.