Document Type



Journal of Empirical Legal Studies






Copyright provides a long term of legal excludability, ostensibly to encourage the production of new creative works. How long this term should last, and the extent to which current law aligns with the economic incentives of copyright owners, has been the subject of vigorous theoretical debate. We investigate the economic viability of content in a major content industry—commercial music—using a novel longitudinal dataset of weekly sales and streaming counts. We find that the typical sound recording has an extremely short commercial half-life—on the order of months, rather than years or decades—but also see evidence that subscription streaming services are extending this period of economic viability. Strikingly, though, we find that decay rates are sharp even for blockbuster songs, and that the patterns persist when we approximate weekly revenue. Although our results do not provide an estimate of the causal effect of copyright on incentives, they do put bounds on the problem, suggesting a misalignment between the economic realities of the music industry and the current life-plus-70 copyright term.


"© 2020 The Authors. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies published by Cornell Law School and Wiley Periodicals LLC. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited."