Eckhard Höffner has produced an nominally interesting piece of research on The History and Nature of Copyright
, reportedly comparing the state of copyright law and the market for books in the UK and Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately English translations of the two volume
treatise (each also sadly priced at 68 euros) are not available yet but there's a nice article in Der Spiegel
about his thesis.
"Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country's industrial might...
Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.
German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.
The situation in England was very different. "For the period of the Enlightenment and bourgeois emancipation, we see deplorable progress in Great Britain," Höffner states...
Even more startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development -- in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which was established early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom.
Germany, on the other hand, didn't bother with the concept of copyright for a long time. Prussia, then by far Germany's biggest state, introduced a copyright law in 1837, but Germany's continued division into small states meant that it was hardly possible to enforce the law throughout the empire.
Höffner's diligent research is the first academic work to examine the effects of the copyright over a comparatively long period of time and based on a direct comparison between two countries"
There's is nothing necessarily new in the idea that ignoring (or lack of) copyright lead to the widespread production and distribution of cheap books - Charles Dickens spent quite a while touring the US
trying to get them to respect his copyrights. But it is nice to see some reportedly rigorous empirical academic research being done on this. Given my German is embarrassingly poor (or probably more accurately described as practically non existant) I'm going to have to wait for the English translation of the work before I can engage with it properly. On the Dickens situation it's worth noting that though he didn't get what he believed were his just financial rewards from publishing royalites in the US, apparently more than 20% of the value of his estate when he died had been derived from his speaking engagements on his final US tour. There may or may not be a lesson there for modern creators.