Can Artists Make Money Without Copyrights?

You may be familiar with the tune of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Donna è Mobile” from his opera Rigoletto. If not, perhaps you recognize it from popular soccer chants. Verdi’s famous tune provides an interesting case study in intellectual property rights. Professor Stephen Davies outlines three ways intellectual property can be understood:

1.       It can be treated as regular property. If so, it would not be time limited and Verdi’s estate would still be collecting royalties from the song. Chanting based on the tune at sporting events could be subject to a fine or penalty.

2.       It can have a time-limited definition. This is the more common understanding of intellectual property. If so, Verdi (or his estate) may have held the right to receive royalties from this song for a set period of time. After that time period elapsed, the song would enter the public domain.

3.       It could not be protected at all. This was the case in Verdi’s time.

Although Verdi did not have power to prevent others from using his song or from profiting from it, he still produced the song. Not only that, but he also profited from the song because people recognized Verdi as its creator. They were willing to pay a premium to hear it performed by Verdi’s company or by people to whom Verdi gave official approval. This case demonstrates that intellectual property rights are not necessary to stimulate such artistic creativity.


  1. fred

    I’m still undecided on this issue, but found this video incredibly informative. 

  2. russellherbst

    I would like to see some videos on internet piracy.

  3. Kevin Burctoolla

    good point.

  4. Stephen Dincher

    youtube anything by Stephan Kinsella on IP. He’ll demolish any notion that IP is real property that needs protecting. It’s really just monopoly.

  5. RastaJoe

    What about property from lesser known artists?

  6. Jimmy Harrison

    the Carlos Mencia jab was too good.

  7. Keith Knight

    Why don’t people copy and paste all works that have had its copywriter privilege expire?  Because markets are self regulating.


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