Copyright And Classical Music: The Exact Opposite Of The Intended Purpose
from the promoting-progress,-not-limiting-it... dept
Earlier this year, we discussed a recent article about the impact of copyright on classical music, where it was noted that the music that is still considered the absolute best of that particular era mostly came from countries that did not have strong copyright protection. That article noted that there were a number of composers in France (strong copyright protection) who became rich, but that the music they produced has not stood the test of time. Meanwhile, Giles Thomas pointed us to a review of one chapter in Boldrin and Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly that discusses how the introduction of copyright correlates almost exactly to the end of successful classical music composition in England. It is only a correlation — the reasons could be many — but it is worth noting.
Along those lines, a friend recently pointed me to a new research report on the emergence of musical copyright in Europe, by Frederic M. Scherer of Harvard, that highlights many of these same points. The report notes that there seems to be little indication whatsoever that copyright contributed to greater classical music output (its intended purpose). And, it’s not as if the author was looking to make that point — he was actually trying to prove the alternative. As part of the research, he pointed out (a point that has been raised by Levine and Boldrin as well) that Giuseppe Verdi composed in an era both without copyright and with copyright — but as soon as copyright came into play, he drastically slowed down his production of new works, since he could live off the royalties from older works instead:
The reduction in effort cannot be attributed to declining ability; some of Verdi’s great operas are among the handful of late compositions. Rather, his correspondence makes clear, the higher “price” elicited for each opera made it possible to reduce effort along a classic backward-bending supply curve.
That, of course, is the exact opposite of what copyright supporters insist should happen. Even then, Scherer notes that he expected this decrease in production might be offset by Verdi’s wealth attracting many more people into the field of composing as they, too, hoped to get wealthy. So, his initial expectations were that even if Verdi slowed down his production, others would pick up the slack thanks to copyright. No such luck in the data, however: “With my sample of 646 composers I attempted a statistical test, but I have to confess failure.” There was no support at all for the theory in the UK (as noted above). There was some correlation in France, but Scherer notes that seems more likely to have been due to a different variable: the French Revolution and the establishment of the Paris Conservatoire, which quickly brought in and trained hundreds of composers.
So, once again, it has to be asked. If copyright is supposed to be increasing the creation of content, and the evidence suggests the opposite happens, why do people keep insisting that it actually works? Even worse, why does anyone believe copyright system supporters who declare self-righteously that without copyright, there would be no professional content production. As Scherer concludes in his paper: “The world would be full of glorious music even if copyright laws had not come into being.”