Copyright 13

Sometimes you hope for wonders. Right now, I am hoping for the EU parliament will stop the madness of the EU copyright directive. It will take at least a medium sized wonder to achieve that outcome. But in order to do my part in facilitating that wonder, I kicked off this series of small articles. You find the other ones when you search for the hashtag #copyright13

#copyright #eu #article13

Part 2: Copyright History & Economics

The copyright is a bastard son of the printing press. Before it, the effort of creating a book was so high that an abundance of copies of any content was unimaginable. But things change and suddenly it became feasible to take someone else's ideas and print thousand copies of it.

So in 1709 British Statute of Anne gave the publishers rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired. It began, "Whereas Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing ... Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors ... to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families".

The problem was thought so pressing, in 1787 it became as Copyright Clause part of the U.S. constitution: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

Believe it or not, I am in full agreement with the historic purposes of the Copyright.

The problem of implementation

The copyright works by grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to determine whether, and under what conditions, this original work may be used by others. Therefor it is creating a legal monopoly for a certain creative work.

The emphasis on "legal" is important as monopolies in the western economy are usually broken up to provide the society with a functional and fair market. Intellectual properties and copyrights as one implementation of them are a way to avoid this major restriction.

Initially this was not an issue as an individual author could be easily bypassed if (s)he tried to leverage the exclusive right too much.

But companies and organizations formed that live primarily by acquiring and monetizing copyright. Due to specialization they managed to "corner" certain markets. This is only limited by the duration of the exclusivity.

Copyright duration

With the original implementation of copyrights, the exclusive was much shorter than today. The copyright duration nowadays is for 50-70 years (sometimes only starting with the death of the original author).

For any copyright protected work that is created within your lifetime, you will be long dead before it enters public domain.

The duration was pushed to be longer and longer by political lobbying. For the U.S. this can be seen in the following graphics:


Why is that? Are the revenues of a 1930's Mickey Mouse film so high that you spend millions to lobby extensions? The answer is "No". It is not about revenue. Nearly all the revenue of new books, music, and movies is generated within the first 12 months of the initial release.

The goal of a lengthy copyright period is control. This way you can prevent that your old movies become too competitive (as they are free) towards your new movies.

The Disney Vault

Disney has perfected that approach by creating a vault system. The term was used by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment for its policy of putting home video releases of Walt Disney Animation Studios's animated features on moratorium. Each Disney film is available for purchase for a limited time, after which it is put "in the vault" and not made available in stores for several years until its re-release.

It should be kept in mind that Disney with the takeover of 20th Century Fox has a market share that is expected to exceed 30% in 2019.


Copyrighted works have become a commodity to be traded like stocks. They have become a way to circumvent market restrictions to the disadvantage of the consumer.

Initial purposes like "Progress of Science and useful Arts" have become lost in space and time.

Article 13

The shown approach of market control has been threatened by the rise of the Internet and User Generated Content.

A single cat video is no competitor for a Triple-A movie, but millions of them together are. Not by taking away the money but the consumer time and attention.

The one and only purpose of Article 13 is to curb user generated content. It shall create transaction costs for platform providers and frustration to the users creating content.