November 22, 2004

Is The EU Database Copyright Working? [7:48 pm]

Boyle takes a look (relying on data from this Science article - Europe’s Database Experiment [pdf]): A natural experiment [via Donna]

The basic economic model here is “If you give me a larger right, I will have a larger incentive to innovate. Thus the bigger the rights, the more innovation we will get. Right?” Well, not exactly. Even without data, the models are obviously flawed - copyrighting the alphabet will not produce more books, patenting E=MC2 will not yield more scientific innovation. Intellectual property creates barriers to, as well as incentives towards, innovation. Clearly the “more is better” argument has limits. Extensions of rights can help or hurt, but without economic evidence beforehand and review afterwards, we will never know. In the absence of evidence on either side, the presumption should obviously still be against creating a new legalised monopoly, but still the empirical emptiness of the debates is frustrating.

This makes the occasion where there actually is some evidence a time for celebration. What we really need is a test case where one country adopts the proposed new intellectual property right and another does not, and we can assess how they are both doing after a number of years.

There is such a case. It is the “database right.” Europe adopted a Database Directive in 1996 which both gave a high level of copyright protection to databases, and conferred a new “sui generis” database right even on unoriginal compilations of facts. [...]

If the database right were working, we would expect positive answers to three crucial questions. First, has the European database industry’s rate of growth increased since 1996, while the US database industry has languished? [...]

Second, are the principal beneficiaries of the database right in Europe producing databases they would not have produced otherwise? [...]

Third, and this one is harder to judge, is the right promoting innovation and competition rather than stifling it? [...]

Those are the three questions that any review of the Database Directive must answer. But we have preliminary answers to those three questions and they are either strongly negative or extremely doubtful.

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