Economics,  History

Copyright Laws Suppress Information

When trying to find information about Christopher Columbus for my podcast I ran across a site that mentioned a website with 1,100 original texts of articles and other sources relating to him and his discovery. That wealth of information that Millerville University hosted unfortunately is now down, but can still be accessed through web archives (here).

According to the Millerville University Wiki, it was taken down in large part,

to the expiration of many of the original letters of permission which had granted copyright privileges to the university.

There had also been a decline in user ship too, but the copyright issue is the first mentioned and it’s considered the largest according to them. But of course, we are told that copyright protects information and without information we’d have no information at all. Now, If I wanted to find some of these articles I’d have to find them behind academic journal paywalls of sometimes upwards of a 100 dollars for one journal article.

I recently came across a very interesting Der Spiegel article that gave the case study of copyright law in the UK vs the German states in the 1800’s. England, which had very strict copyright laws vs the various German states which had no copyright laws or unenforced copyright laws, had ten times fewer book published in a year than in Germany. In 1843 the German states printed 14,000 new book titles while the UK eked out around 1,000. Even adjusting for population the copyright ridden UK stills falls way behind.

In the UK books were so expensive that libraries (which they had less of compared to Germany), were chained so people couldn’t steal them because the copyright laws could make the books so valuable by restricting supply. But in Germany, with the threat of plagiarizes who could distribute the knowledge in the books, book publishers distributed their books widely and made what might be called ‘special’ editions for wealthier clients and paperbacks for the common man.

I would much rather have the environment of Germany than of the UK when it comes to knowledge, and it seems that copyright plays a major role in it. But, we are told by virtually everyone, without copyright we wouldn’t be able to have a free flow of information because people would be scared of ‘pirates’.

It’s not like our current system is good by any means with academic papers costing sometimes $100 to access for a layman making pirating with sites like Sci-Hub a necessity. With copyright laws we have seen academic journals make their prices so ridiculous that hardly anyone can access them, but this is the fair market of copyright?

Copyright laws inherently restrict supply which inherently makes it harder to get information because of higher prices. Therefore copyright inherently destroys access to information.


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