Peter DiCola: A Study of Income from Copyright Protected Sources

Peter DiCola, assistant professor at Northwestern University School of law recently released a study on the income earned by musicians from copyright protected sources.  The goal of the study, entitled Money from Music: Survey Evidence on Musicians’ Revenue and Lessons About Copyright Incentives, was to analyze empirical evidence in order to justify the incentive theory of copyright law.

The incentive theory posits that copyright law encourages the creation of new works by giving authors a financial incentive to produce new works.  The DiCola study was designed to measure copyright’s financial incentive by analyzing what percentage of musicians’ total income is directly related to revenue generated from copyright protection.

The primary method used to accumulate this data was an online survey conducted through the Future of Music Coalition in which 6,700 self-proclaimed musicians took part.  While not all of these musicians completed the survey in full, almost all answered questions related to their income, which was the key data set for DiCola.

In setting out the hypotheses of the study, DiCola identifies the preconceptions that he and his researchers shared about the effectiveness of copyright law.  First, they hypothesized that musicians would have a variety of revenue streams, especially those in the classical music genre.  Second, they hypothesized that a musician’s focus on a particular aspect of the industry would also affect their revenue stream.  Third, they hypothesized that those musicians who focused on composing would see diminished revenue streams due to concerns such as unlicenced downloading.  Lastly, DiCola and his team hypothesized that a majority of musicians would have indifferent opinions towards the internet despite unlicenced downloading.

The study revealed that, on average, musicians only gained 6 percent of their income from sound recordings and another 6 percent on songwriting.  But before we take those numbers as proof that musicians don’t truly rely on copyright law for their income it is important to note the drawbacks of the study.

The first is that in order to qualify as a musician in the study, one simply needs to make money in the music industry or have made money there in the past.  It is also important to note that while the average income of “musicians” in the study was $55,561 USD, over 70 percent of participants reported making less than $50,000 USD in the music industry, which indicates that most musicians have income streams outside of the music business.  However, while the issues with the combined data are apparent to DiCola, he provides a more detailed breakdown of income which takes some of these variables out of the picture.

One of the notable aspect about DiCola’s study is that it provides an in-depth analysis of income based on a variety of factors in the music industry. For example, he provides income statistics based on the genre of music that the musicians identified themselves with.  In doing so, the income numbers became more predictable.  The composer of classical music, for example, gained more than 6 percent of his or her income through songwriting.  But the breakdown of the data by these factors does more than make DiCola’s results more predictable, it also supports one of his suggestions going forward.

DiCola makes the point that copyright law may be altered in creative ways to benefit the musicians who actually rely on that income while increasing public access.  The study demonstrates that all musicians do not need the same protections and provides the groundwork data for creative changes to copyright legislation.

On the whole the study can be commended for doing the following: (1) It reports its findings in a number of ways allowing the reader to draw more succinct conclusions from the data; (2) The author is upfront about all its shortcomings and offers suggestions for future research, and; (3) The author explores multiple theories and suggests which one the data supports.  More importantly, DiCola’s initial study will encourage more directed research in this area.

Adam Stevenson is a JD Candidate of Western University, faculty of law 

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  1. […] "Peter DiCola, assistant professor at Northwestern University School of law recently released a study on the income earned by musicians from copyright protected sources. The goal of the study, entitled Money from Music: Survey Evidence on Musicians’ Revenue and Lessons About Copyright Incentives, was to analyze empirical evidence in order to justify the incentive theory of copyright law."  […]

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