Despite the blossoming of copyright law and authorship theories over the past decades, there has thus far been very little in terms of empirical research to either affirm or refute any. Fortunately, the Copyright Office is home to the largest and oldest running registry of copyright claims worldwide, whose contents give a sense of the rate and direction of the production of literature, music, theatre, dance, the fine arts, movies and other original and expressive works of authorship in the U.S. over time. In recent years, a small yet growing body of literature has started to look at registration records in order to inform copyright policy.

This essay provides a survey of the empirical literature on copyright registration to date. Chronologically, the literature has come to rely on better data over time. Initial studies used registration data that were noisy in significant ways; later studies composed their statistics by aggregating the contents of individual registration records scoured from the Copyright Office’s website; current studies rely on accurate data obtained directly from the Office. Registration data have been used to provide descriptive statistics about authors, the authorship process and the rate and direction of authorial creativity; to challenge accepted premises of copyright and authorship theories; to assess the prudence of particular copyright reforms and to assess the overall performance of the copyright system. The forthcoming public release of registration data is likely to contribute to their further scholarly analysis.

Dotan Oliar, Empirical Studies of Copyright Registration, in Research Handbook on the Economics of Intellectual Property Law, Edward Elgar, 533–546 (2019).