Steal this Gründerzeit!
August 20, 2010 7:28 AM   Subscribe

"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 ... the majority of the works were academic papers. The situation in England was very different ... we see deplorable progress in Great Britain. 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." (Related, Hoffner's presentation)
posted by geoff. (5 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The book Against Intellectual Monopoly points out the lack of patent protection also seems to have boosted the German chemical industry:
Prior to the rise of the pharmaceutical industry, the most important form of chemical production was the paint and coloring industry. At its inception, the dye industry was a French-British business, and in both countries patent protection applied. In 1862 British firms controlled about 50% of the world market, and French firms another 40%, Swiss and German companies being marginal players. By 1873 German companies had 50% of the market, while French, Swiss and British firms controlled between 13% and 17% each. In 1913 German firms had a market share of more than 80%, the Swiss had about 8%, the rest of the world had disappeared. During this entire period there was no patent protection at all in Switzerland, while in Germany processes become patentable in 1877. In France, the U.K. and the U.S. both products and processes had been patentable all along...

...German chemical companies competed heavily at home and across most European markets, where chemical products could not be patented. This situation forced them to innovate frequently and to develop production processes able to guarantee a very high productivity. Such intense competition already gave them a "competitive edge" relative to the Anglo-Saxon companies living in a world of generalized patenting.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:43 AM on August 20, 2010

Next step is to compare the US, which happily pirated British books without paying royalties. (Mind you, the only instances I can think of off had was Dickens, which is not quite what the fellow is on about. As I say worth looking into.)
posted by IndigoJones at 7:45 AM on August 20, 2010

The book Against Intellectual Monopoly points out the lack of patent protection also seems to have boosted the German chemical industry:

A wonderful book I've cited before, A Farewell to Alms, makes similar conclusions in regards to economic prosperity and entrepreneurship. The opinion was slightly nuanced, but basically in times of great innovation, it doesn't matter whether or not the inventor is rewarded. People will invent and innovate regardless of whether there are strong regulatory measures to ensure they profit off their successes.

Of course anyone familiar with Xerox Parc will tell you the lessons of the 19th c. hold well today.
posted by geoff. at 7:59 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Against Intellectual Monopoly has been criticized for, among other things, containing factual errors that overstate the effect that James Watt's patent had on the development of steam power. Selgin, George and Turner, John L., Watt, Again? Boldrin and Levine Still Exaggerate the Adverse Effect of Patents on the Progress of Steam Power, 5 Rev. L. & Econ. 1101 (2009) (available for free at Berkeley Electronic Press):
Boldrin and Levine’s new telling of Watt’s story is hardly more persuasive than their original (2004) version. Although they have corrected some of their earlier errors, their account remains inaccurate and one-sided. Although, told in this fashion, Watt’s story makes for an exciting introduction to the rest of Boldrin and Levine’s book, the story’s value as a source of reliable inferences concerning the general merits and shortcomings of the patent system is open to doubt.
Regarding Höffner's presentation and the SPIEGEL article, I see nothing controlling for literacy rates or the Prussian education system, which mandated compulsory school attendance for children between 5 and 13 beginning in 1763. It also doesn't take into account the Humboldtian research university model. My personal suspicion is that there was a much larger market for books in what-is-now Germany than England, and that that probably accounts for much if not all of the difference.

I believe those differences in educational system also likely influenced things like the dye industry.

Finally, the example of books in the 19th century has only mild applicability to the modern, digital era. Copying a book at that time still required considerable capital investment in printing equipment and expertise and distribution channels. The original publisher had a substantial lead time before a book could be copied, and publishers could still distinguish themselves on the basis of the quality of their printing and binding. Today, electronic works can be copied and distributed around the world essentially instantaneously, at no cost, and in the same format as the original (or even an improved format in some cases). Thus, it is arguable that the competitive advantages that allowed publishers to thrive no longer exist and artificial measures like copyright are more necessary than they were before.

NB: I say this as someone who believes that the copyright term is absurd and that statutory damages and criminal liability for copyright infringement should be abolished.
posted by jedicus at 8:15 AM on August 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

See, this is what happens when you try to do history without proper training. Social scientists, lawyers, economists, literature types, etc. are forever cherry picking historical data to make some point, and they nearly always fuck it up.
posted by LarryC at 10:11 AM on August 21, 2010

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