Does Copyright Law Promote Creativity? An Empirical Analysis of Copyright's Bounty


Modern copyright law is based upon a theory: increase copyright protection and you increase the number of creative works available to society. This theory has been the driving force behind an economic vision that has expanded, beyond all recognition, the original law created by the Statute of Anne. And with this expansion, we are told that the costs associated with copyright are worthwhile because of the bounty it produces. What if this theory could be tested? After all, this is not a question of faith or morality, nor is it a statement on how humans should behave; it is a theory about how humans do behave. In this article, we use statistical analysis to test the theory that increasing copyright protection usually increases the number of new creative works. Relying upon U.S. copyright registrations from 187 through 26 as a proxy for the number of works created, we considered how four variables, population, the economy, law changes, and technology influenced subsequent copyright registrations. Based upon this data, our findings cast serious doubt on the idea that with copyright law, one size fits all. While individual law changes may be associated with changes in subsequent copyright registrations, overall, the relationship between law changes and registrations is neither consistent nor completely predictable.


Copyright, Copyright Protection, Productivity, Population, Economy, Changes in the Law, Technology, Empirical Legal Research, Law and Economics

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Vanderbilt Law Review

Publication Information

62 Vanderbilt Law Review 1669 (2009)

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COinS Raymond Shih Ray Ku Faculty Bio