Germany's scientific texts were made free during and after WWII; analyzing them today shows the negative effect of paywalls on science

In 1942, the US Book Republication Program permitted American publishers to reprint "exact reproductions" of Germany's scientific texts without payment; seventy-five years later, the fate of this scientific knowledge forms the basis of a "natural experiment" analysed by Barbara Biasi and Petra Moser for The Center for Economic and Policy Research, who compare the fate of these texts to their contemporaries who didn't have this semi-public-domain existence.

Here's the headline finding: "This artificial removal of copyright barriers led to a 25% decline in prices, and a 67% increase in citations. These results suggest that restrictive copyright policies slow down the progress of science considerably."

We start by examining changes in the number of new books and articles that cite BRP books after 1942. Baseline estimates compare changes in citations tothe same BRP bookfrom English-language authors (who benefitted directly from the US-based BRP) with citations from other-language authors, who did not benefit directly. This identification approach addresses selection issues by comparing citations to the same book. OLS estimates indicate an additional 80% increase in citations to BRP books from English-language authors after 1942, compared with other authors.

A complementary identification strategy compares English-language citations to BRP books with English-language citations to Swiss books. This approach addresses the issue that English-language citations may have increased mechanically after 1942, if English-language scientists published more after the war. Like German scientists, Swiss scientists were leaders in chemistry and mathematics and wrote primarily in German, but due to Switzerland’s neutrality, Swiss-owned copyrights were not accessible to the BRP. OLS estimates of a matched sample of BRP and Swiss books (in similar fields and with similar levels of pre-BRP non-English citations) confirm the significant increase in citations in response to the BRP. We also combine the two identification strategies, by comparing changes in citations to BRP books from English-language and other authors with the corresponding changes for Swiss books. These estimates, which are our preferred estimates, imply a 67% increase in citations.

Effects of copyrights on science [Barbara Biasi and Petra Moser/Vox EU]

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