January 23, 2007 · Lessig
University of Georgia Professor Paul Heald has been working for a long time to understand the right balance in copyright. He’s got a fantastic new empirical study posted at SSRN that evaluates the effect on access from work passing into the public domain. Recall one argument for extending a copyright term is that it gives the copyright owner incentives to keep old works alive. Heald tests this hypothesis by looking at the availability of best sellers after the pass into the public domain.
The study is interestingly rich, and the conclusions are interestingly contingent. But the bottom line for books is that a work’s passing into the public domain increases access at a lower price. Or put differently: if you want to make sure the classics are preserved, the public domain is a good tool to do just that.
The paper has not been published yet. But consistent with the ideals of science, Heald is making all the data freely available so others can test the hypothesis. The data is being housed at Science Commons just now. So download (paper/data), test, re-test, and see if Heald is right.
One thing’s for sure, however: this is the right way to make scientific knowledge available. Bravo, Professor Heald.