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Research Highlights

Copyright Law as the Muse of Creativity

Petra Moser_body

Intuitively, copyrights of any reasonable length increase composers' incentives to produce high-quality works, which tend to be repeated more frequently and thus allow them to earn more money from repeat performances.

When do intellectual property protections tend to encourage innovation, and when do they stifle it?  NYU Stern Economics Professor Petra Moser has written a paper that explores this issue through research into a trove of data on new operas in eight Italian states around 1800.
 
Professor Moser and co-author Michela Giorcelli, a PhD candidate in economics at Stanford University, collected historical records on the number of newly created operas, as well as on their popularity and durability, to examine the effects of copyrights on the quantity and quality of creative output. To identify the causal effects of copyrights on creativity, their paper exploits variation in the timing of Napoleon’s military victories in Italy.  Italian states that came under Napoleon’s control before the passage of Code Civil in 1804 adopted copyrights, while states that came under Napoleon’s control after 1804 did not.  As a result, two Italian states had copyright in the first quarter of the 19th century, while others offered no protection.
 
They found that the output of operas that premiered across eight Italian states between 1780 and 1821 – 20 years before and after the introduction of copyright laws – showed an increase in output in response to the introduction of copyrights. Data on high-quality operas, measured through their historical popularity and longevity, suggested to the authors that the introduction of copyright laws also increased the average quality of new operas. “Intuitively,” says Professor Moser, “copyrights of any reasonable length increase composers’ incentives to produce high-quality works, which tend to be repeated more frequently and thus allow them to earn more money from repeat performances.” Importantly, the data also indicate that extensions in the length of copyright – beyond the lifetime of the composer – have no positive effects on creativity.
 
In previous work, Professor Moser’s research has found that policies that strengthen patent laws may conversely discourage innovation. Compared with patents, copyrights offer property rights that are significantly narrower. Combining these results suggests that offering intellectual property rights that are both narrow and short-lived may create the optimal incentives for innovation.