Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Copyright Law: Standing in the Way of Progress

This subject was recently discussed at The Daily Bell, and thanks to feedbacker Abu Aaardvark for providing the first link to the reference material.

Did Germany 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 industrialization.

Höffner 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.

German authors 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 academic papers.

Much of what was published in Germany during this time was technical, for example:

Sigismund Hermbstädt…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.

In contrast to the situation in Germany, the volume of works published in England was rather miniscule:

Indeed, only 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.

England, which 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 interesting:

Even more 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.

Germany, 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.

Further, the 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”:

Authors, 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:

Great Britain: 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.

Germany: 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.

Copyright laws 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.


  1. Hallo Mosquito,

    you may find more useful content about the same topic on the following pages:

    http://wiki.mises.org/wiki/Without_Intellectual_Property and


  2. Greetings, BM!

    In case your reply to feedbacker Manfred indeed signals that you speak German, you may want to take a look at these links ... if you don't, why not use google translator - it works pretty good meanwhile ...

    "Wem nutzt das Urheberrecht? Interview mit Eckhard Höffner zu seinem Buch "Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts" - Teil 1"


    "Eine Flut technisch-wissenschaftlicher Spezialliteratur - Interview mit Eckhard Höffner zu seinem Buch "Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts" - Teil 2"


    Eckhard Höffner's Blog, "FiFo Ost"


    A selected article by Höffner from his blog: "Das Blei in den Regalen — Mythos Urheberrecht"


    Video presentation by Eckhard Höffner about "Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts"


    Review of Höffner's book "Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts"


    See ya,


  3. I'm not sure how copyright hurt the average author. We have copyright today and books are everywhere. So I wonder if the difference between England and Germany had more to do with the printing technology and not copyright per se. Did it cost less to print books in Germany than in England?

    Another factor is how copyright was enforced in England. If it was onerous, then again it isn't copyright necessarily but the execution that was deficient.

    I'll look into it further. Thanks.

    1. plenarchist commits two common errors.

      The first error is called the Broken Window Fallacy. Yes, we see books everywhere. Recent studies--such as the mises.org links provided above--regarding how copyright has crippled progress, indicate that the number of books should-be/would-have-been even greater without this draconian government-granted monopoly. Indeed the article above indicates likewise comparing two very good historical examples of England with copyright and Germany without.

      The second error is the logical disconnect between copyright rules and their enforcement level, i.e cause and effect. You cannot blame or credit the execution level when there would be NO execution if the rules did NOT exist.

      When government creates a rule (posing as "law"), it is only a matter of time before it becomes "onerous". Again the article pointed out that England had copyright monopoly "laws" more than a century before Prussia introduced them. Indeed they had much more time to perfect their execution--and there ARE consequences! And that is the whole point of the article. Copyright is a major infringement on progress.