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Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music since Napster

  • Joel Waldfogel

Recent technological changes may have altered the balance between technology and copyright law for digital products. While file-sharing has reduced revenue, other technological changes have reduced the costs of bringing creative works to market. As a result, we don't know whether the effective copyright protection currently available provides adequate incentives to bring forth a steady stream of valuable new products. This paper assesses the quality of new recorded music since Napster, using three independent approaches. The first is an index of the quantity of high-quality music based on critics' retrospective lists. The second and third approaches rely directly on music sales and airplay data, respectively, using of the idea that if one vintage's music is better than another's, its superior quality should generate higher sales or greater airplay through time, after accounting for depreciation. The three resulting indices of vintage quality for the past half-century are both consistent with each other and with other historical accounts of recorded music quality. There is no evidence of a reduction in the quality of music released since Napster, and the two usage-based indices suggest an increase since 1999. Hence, researchers and policymakers thinking about the strength of copyright protection should supplement their attention to producer surplus with concern for consumer surplus as well.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17503.

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Date of creation: Oct 2011
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Publication status: published as Joel Waldfogel, 2012. "Copyright Protection, Technological Change, and the Quality of New Products: Evidence from Recorded Music since Napster," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 55(4), pages 715 - 740.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17503
Note: IO LE
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  1. Rafael Rob & Joel Waldfogel, 2004. "Piracy on the High C's: Music Downloading, Sales Displacement, and Social Welfare in a Sample of College Students," NBER Working Papers 10874, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Julie Holland Mortimer & Chris Nosko & Alan Sorensen, 2010. "Supply Responses to Digital Distribution: Recorded Music and Live Performances," NBER Working Papers 16507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Marie Connolly & Alan Krueger, 2005. "Rockonomics: The Economics of Popular Music," Working Papers 878, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  4. Michele Boldrin & David K Levine, 2008. "Against Intellectual Monopoly," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000002371, UCLA Department of Economics.
  5. Joel Waldfogel, 2011. "Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie? The Supply of New Recorded Music Since Napster," NBER Working Papers 16882, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Tyler Cowen, 2000. "Creative industries: contracts between art and commerce, by Caves, R.E. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2000, ix + 454 pp., $45.00 (cloth)," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(5), pages 208-209.
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