Copyright Law: Standing in the Way of Progress
by Jonathan Goodwin
was recently discussed at The Daily Bell, and thanks to feedbacker
Abu Aaardvark for providing the first
link to the reference material.
experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due
to an absence of copyright law? A German historian [Eckhard Höffner]
argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge,
laid the foundation for the country's industrial might.
In the early
part of the 19th century Germany was still very much an agriculturally
based and rural society, while England was well on its way to complete
has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany
and reached a surprising conclusion unlike neighboring
England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion
of knowledge in the 19th century.
during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications
appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population
numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although
novels were published as well, the majority of the works were
Much of what
was published in Germany during this time was technical, for example:
a chemistry and pharmacy professor in Berlin,
who has long since disappeared into the oblivion of history, earned
more royalties for his "Principles of Leather Tanning"
published in 1806 than British author Mary Shelley did for her
horror novel "Frankenstein," which is still famous today.
to the situation in Germany, the volume of works published in England
was rather miniscule:
1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time
10 times fewer than in Germany and this was not without
consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak
book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter
away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped
agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally
developed industrial nation by 1900.
had almost a one century head start in industrialization, and a
centuries-long advantage in international trade, was unable to maintain
it superior industrial position as compared to Germany.
But it is the
reason behind this, according to Höffner, that is the most
startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development
in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which
was established early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled
the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom.
on the other hand, didn't bother with the concept of copyright
for a long time. Prussia, then by far Germany's biggest state,
introduced a copyright law in 1837, but Germany's continued division
into small states meant that it was hardly possible to enforce
the law throughout the empire.
The lack of
copyright protection in Germany allowed for the easy proliferation
of material, thus providing the material for the rapidly expanding
knowledge in the German population. This progress was seen, most
directly, in the rapid industrialization of German society.
authors in Germany preferred the relative freedom that came with
no copyright protection. In reaction to the greater enforcement
of copyright in Germany, some authors expressed annoyance:
now guaranteed the rights to their own works, were often annoyed
by this development. Heinrich Heine, for example, wrote to his
publisher Julius Campe on October 24, 1854, in a rather acerbic
mood: "Due to the tremendously high prices you have established,
I will hardly see a second edition of the book anytime soon. But
you must set lower prices, dear Campe, for otherwise I really
don't see why I was so lenient with my material interests."
As to the remuneration
to authors for their work, Höffner indicates that authors in
Germany enjoyed a higher
relative income than did authors in England:
The average payment for a book was about a tenth of the yearly
income of an academic member of the middle class. Very few books
were published and written (mostly classical canon and novels).
Copyright was not trivial, but harmed the average author.
The average payment for a book was about a quarter up to an half
of the yearly income of an academic member of the middle class.
Many books on any topics were written, published and paid.
There are some
ramifications to this episode that are applicable today. It seems
to be the case that copyright is useful to the gatekeepers
keeping the free flow of information out of the hands of the masses,
and limiting the information (made available due to the handiwork
of Gutenberg) only to those wealthy enough to pay the prices afforded
by the resulting cartel.
It should be
noted that the similar discussion is occurring today due to the
internet. This tool, allowing for the free-flow of conversation
and ideas, is regularly under attack certainly because it
allows for non-mainstream dialogue. However, the tool that will
be deployed to limit conversation could very easily be the same
one used in England the copyright.
stand in the way of progress the progress of expanding the
dialogue outside of acceptable bounds. It is this openness of dialogue
that is the enemy of the elite, and it is in order to squelch the
dialogue that copyright is enforced.
with permission from the Bionic
© 2012 Bionic