Transcript Petra Moser: How copyright improved Italian opera

00:12 I’m Petra Moser, I’m an economic historian and I work on intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights are legal property rights in ideas. They can be in innovations, which then there are patents, or they can be in art or music and then those things are mostly covered by copyrights.

00:37 Intellectual property rights are important because we care about innovation. Innovation is one of the prime engines of economic growth and it creates many improvements in people’s lives from medicines to books to household inventions to music. How strong should intellectual property rights be that we grant to the first generation of inventors so that it doesn’t discourage innovation by the next generation of inventors?

01:12 As an economic historian I can use variation in intellectual property rights systems to see how inventors and artists have responded to different types of intellectual property right regimes. Many people focus on changes in the level of innovations but it may be that what people invent is just as important as how much they invent.

01:40 There’s a big difference between patents and copyrights. If you think about a patent on an opera the patent could cover the idea of an opera about a barber. The copyright just protects that specific expression of the music that was created.

02:00 To look at the effects of a patent system on innovation you ideally want a measure of innovation that’s not related to the patent system. I looked at 19th century World Fairs. Countries came from all over the world and they showed their innovations, regardless of whether they were patented or not. So you could even see innovation from countries without patent laws. Countries that did not have a patent system were just as innovative as countries that did have a patent system. They did, however, invent other things compared with countries that have a patent system.

02:37 One key question that economists have not been able to answer is the effects of intellectual property rights on creativity. We have almost no evidence on this. What we can use is that Napoleon invaded Italy, he won certain parts of Italy before the passage of the code civil in France in 1804. Those parts adopted copyright. Any state that Napoleon invaded after the passage of the code civil became under the influence of the code civil but it did not get copyright.

03:11 What we observed is that in the states that have copyrights composers create both more and they create better operas. So why would you want to create more operas? You may want to create more operas because now you have an intellectual property right in the opera that you create. So essentially, you get a better deal from the theatre when you sell your opera to the theatre. So essentially, if the opera gets performed again the composer stands to gain from that so then now the composer has an incentive to create a better opera. The same states that increased their output when they got basic levels of copyright protection didn’t do anything when they got longer copyright protection. What we conclude from that is that having basic levels of protection is incredibly helpful but extending it say beyond the lifetime of the author does not seem to have any effects.

04:10 The key takeaway of my work for students is that intellectual property rights should be narrow and short-lived. If intellectual property rights are too broad or too long-lived, they create costs for later generations of inventors that discourages their innovations.