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Economic issues in copying easily reproducible goods

Ökonomische Probleme beim Kopieren leicht reproduzierbarer Güter

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The illegal copying of easily reproducible goods (audio and video tape copying, photocopying publications, and duplicating computer software) has received considerable attention by the industries concerned. Each area has also drawn limited attention from economists, who have debated the merits of stifling creativity by allowing copying (lessening creators' rewards) versus lowering productivity by preventing copying, over the past decade. While the copying problem is common to all of these media, the economic welfare consequences and justifications for prohibitions are quite different. This is because several of the products involved are primarily consumer goods, while others may be considered capital goods (e.g., software), and yet others (e.g., photocopied journals) are employed to improve the stock of human capital. This paper surveys and synthesizes the economic literature on reproducible goods and derives policy conclusions that differ as a function of the purposes and uses of the goods being reproduced or copied. It is proposed, for example, that because of widespread copying, professional journals should price discriminate among university libraries, with price a direct function of the number of students and faculty at the institution. Another conclusion is that enforcement of copy protection schemes on computer disks puts the enforcing nation (e.g., the European Community), at a clear competitive disadvantage against nations that do not attempt to enforce such laws.


Das illegale Kopieren leicht reproduzierbarer Güter (in der Form des Überspielens von Audiound Videobändern, des Fotokopierens von Literatur oder des Duplizierens von Computersoftware) ist für die entsprechenden Branchen ein wichtiges Problem geworden. Ein gewisses Interesse ist dem Thema im vergangenen Jahrzehnt auch von einzelnen Ökonomen entgegengebracht worden, die diskutiert haben, ob die die Legalisierung des Kopierens das Angebot an Kreativität eher unterdrückt oder ob ein Verbot des Kopierens zu einer Abnahme der Produktivität führt. Während das Problem von Raubkopien allen Bereichen gemeinsam ist, sind die Folgen für die ökonomische Wohlfahrt und die Rechtfertigung für Kopierverbote jeweils recht verschieden. Der Grund dafür liegt darin, daß einige der betroffenen Produkte vorrangig Konsumgüter sind, während andere eher als Investitionsgüter gelten (z. B. Software) und wieder andere (z. B. Kopien von Literatur) einem Zuwachs an Humankapital gleichkommen.

Der Beitrag gibt einen zusammenfassenden Überblick über die ökonomische Literatur über leicht reproduzierbare Güter und leitet einige politische Schlußfolgerungen daraus ab. Diese Schlußfolgerungen hängen im einzelnen von der Verwendung der Güter ab, die kopiert werden. So wird beispielsweise vorgeschlagen, daß Fachzeitschriften von Universitätsbibliotheken unterschiedliche Preise (in Abhängigkeit von der Zahl der Studenten) fordern sollten. Als weitere Schlußfolgerung ergibt sich, daß Wirtschaftsräume, die Maßnahmen zum Schutz gegen Kopieren anführen, sich dadurch in Wettbewerbsnachteile gegenüber Länder bringen, die solche Maßnahmen nicht einführen.

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Additional information

Michael A. Stoller is an Associate Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, School of Business and Economics, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY 12901, USA. He gratefully acknowledges the very helpful comments and suggestions of Professor Warren Dixon and Mr. John Duncan.

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Stoller, M.A. Economic issues in copying easily reproducible goods. J Consum Policy 14, 393–411 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02176282

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  • Protection Scheme
  • Welfare Consequence
  • Capital Good
  • Video Tape
  • Professional Journal