Frank Thadeusz: The Real Reason for Germany’s Industrial Expansion?

In the past, many many valuable literary, scientific and artistic works have been created and traded without effective copyright protection (e.g. Scherer, 2008). Open source software, which is produced without taking recourse to most aspect of copyright or other types of IP is flourishing on the internet. (Bessen, 2005; Krogh and Hippel, 2006). It seems improbable that advances in copying technology would completely do away with incentives to create further works.

Until now, copyright was seen as a great achievement and a guarantee for a flourishing book market. Authors are only motivated to write, runs the conventional belief, if they know their rights will be protected.

Yet a historical comparison, at least, reaches a different conclusion. Publishers in England exploited their monopoly shamelessly. New discoveries were generally published in limited editions of at most 750 copies and sold at a price that often exceeded the weekly salary of an educated worker. In Germany during the same period, publishers had plagiarizers — who could reprint each new publication and sell it cheaply without fear of punishment. Bestsellers and academic works were introduced to the German public in large numbers and at extremely low prices. The prospect of a wide readership motivated scientists in particular to publish the results of their research. In Höffner’s analysis, “a completely new form of imparting knowledge established itself.”

Höffner believes, 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 and instead experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.

German publishers did, however, react to the new situation in a restrictive way reminiscent of their British colleagues, tightening copyright enforcements, cranking up prices and doing away with the low-price market. 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.”

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