Size and Value of EU Public Domain

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= two reports by Rufus Pollock [1]


This paper reports results from a large recent study of the public domain in the European Union. Based on a combination of catalogue and survey data our figures for the number of items (and works) in the public domain extend across a variety of media and provide one of the first quantitative estimates of the ’size’ of the public domain in any jurisdiction. We find that for books and recordings the public domain is around 10-20% of published extant output and would consist of millions and hundreds of thousands of items respectively. For films the figure is dramatically lower (almost zero). We also establish some interesting figures relevant to the orphan works debate such as the number of catalogue entries without any identified author (approximately 10%).

This paper reports results from a large recent study of the public domain in the European Union. Based on a combination of catalogue, commercial and survey data we present detailed figures both on the prices (and price differences) of in copyright and public domain material and on the usage of that material. Combined with the estimates for the size of the EU public domain presented in the companion paper our results allow us to provide the first quantitative estimate for the `value’ of the public domain (i.e. welfare gains from its existence) in any jurisdiction. We also find clear, and statistically significant, differences between the prices of in-copyright and public-domain in the two areas which we have significant data: books and sounds recordings in the UK. Patterns of usage indicate a significant demand for public domain material but limitations of the data make it difficult to draw conclusions on the impact of entry into the public domain on demand.


Rufus Pollock:

"The results on price differences are particularly striking, as to my knowledge, these are by far the largest analysis done to date. More significantly, they clearly show that the Commission’s claim that their was no price effect of copyright (compared to the public domain) was wrong — a claim central to the impact assessment underlying their proposal to extend term of copyright in sound recordings." (

Mike Masnick:

“The main assumption is often that there’s no “cost” to keeping works protected by copyright. In fact politicians have, at times, even argued that copyright doesn’t have an impact on price of works, as they argued in favor of copyright extension.

Rufus Pollock has now released two new studies on the size and value of the public domain in the EU, which shows that this argument is false. The public domain creates plenty of value and extending copyright does have a very real cost. It’s not easy to calculate the specific cost, because the data necessary is not always available, but in areas where Pollock and his collaborators were able to get the necessary data, they showed that there’s clearly value created by the public domain — and we should not ignore that in copyright debates. Separately, the paper on valuing the public domain seems like an excellent one for use in the future in setting up a clear methodology for calculating “value” (as opposed to price) for works under copyright vs. the public domain. Most of the paper is really about the methodology of trying to figure out something that is not easily calculated (value).” (