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IPNY: Rebecca Giblin on What Happens When Books Enter the Public Domain?

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Vanderbilt Hall

40 Washington Square South

Room 202

New York, NY 10012

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The IPNY series allows the larger Engelberg Center community to come together in evening events to discuss cutting-edge issues in innovation law and policy. This evening will feature a presentation from Rebecca Giblin, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor at Monash University, Australia.

A summary of Professor Giblin's talk, titled "What Happens When Books Enter the Public Domain? Testing Copyright’s Underuse Hypothesis Across Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada" is below. Professor Giblin's presentation will be followed by a Q&A and a brief reception.

IPNY events are free and open to the public. This event has been approved for 1.5 hours of NY State CLE credit in Areas of Professional Practice.


Presentation Summary:

The US extended most copyright terms by 20 years in 1998, and has since widely exported that extension via ‘free trade’ agreements. A key supporting justification for the US extension was the claim that exclusive rights are necessary to encourage publishers to invest in making older works available — and that, unless such rights were granted, they would go underused. In this seminar I report results from the first study to ever test the underuse hypothesis outside the US, and the first to analyse comparative availability of identical works with different copyright statuses in different countries. We investigated the relative availability of ebooks to public libraries across Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, and found that books are actually less available where they are under copyright than where they are in the public domain, and that commercial publishers seem undeterred from investing in works even where others are competing to supply the same titles. We also find that exclusive rights do not appear to trigger investment in works that have low commercial demand, with books from 59% of the ‘culturally valuable’ authors we sampled unavailable in any jurisdiction - regardless of copyright status. This provides new evidence of how even the shortest copyright terms can outlast works’ commercial value, even in cases where considerable cultural value remains. We also find that works are priced much higher where they are under copyright than where they in the public domain, and these differences typically far exceed what would be paid to authors or their heirs. Thus, one effect of extending copyrights from life + 50 to life + 70 seems to be that libraries are obliged to pay higher prices in exchange for worse access. Although there is now considerable evidence that the underuse hypothesis is not borne out by real world practice, countries (most recently Canada) are still being obliged to enact extended terms as a cost of trade access. Giblin will argue that such nations should explore alternative ways of dividing up those rights to better achieve copyright’s fundamental aims of rewarding authors and promoting widespread access to knowledge and culture.

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Vanderbilt Hall

40 Washington Square South

Room 202

New York, NY 10012

View Map

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