Copyright and economics
Authors: Towse, R.
A brief history of economic thought on copyright Copyright law is a development of market economies which gradually replaced the medieval guild system. The 1709 Statute of Anne was passed in England to establish property rights - copyrights - for the publishers in the Stationers’ Company whose seemingly perpetual rights in their ‘copy’ - the original manuscript of the work - had been revoked by the demise of Crown grants of monopoly, and the new law replicated the convention the guild had adopted for conducting its business. The publisher paid the author for the right to publish his work and the Stationers’ Company recognised that ‘right’ as excluding its publication by other publishers. 1 The limited duration of the copyright was in line with the limitation of other monopolies and, as for patents, was set at fourteen years, twice the length of the guild apprenticeship, which enabled the apprentice to become a master of his craft, and then protected the master from the subsequent competition of the new entrant. In economic terms, the new copyright law was concerned with the incentive to supply and with conditions of production for publishers rather than with authors’ protection. However, it gave authors one advantage: the term of the copyright was made renewable for a further fourteen years, at which point authors had the right to control renewal. Thus the system was a mixed one of authors’ and publishers’ rights, reflecting earlier customs that did not necessarily accord with the needs of a competitive market economy.