Tuesday, March 8, 2011

High Court Will Hear Foreign Copyrights Case

First page of Constitution of the United StatesImage via WikipediaAlthough the federal government advised the High Court to reject the petition, the U.S. Supreme Court this week accepted certiorari in Golan v. Holder (Case No. 10-545), which will decide the copyright status of foreign works previously in the public domain.

Questions the High Court will address are: 1) Does the Progress Clause of the U.S. Constitution [Art. 1, Sec. 8, Clause 8] prohibit Congress from removing works from the public domain? and 2) Does Sec. 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 ("URAA") violate the First Amendment?

The URAA returned copyright protection to numerous foreign works that had entered the public domain, including music by composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich, films by Federico Fellini and Alfred Hitchcock, and novels by H.G. Wells and Virginia Woolf. Petitioners include Lawrence Golan, a University of Denver music professor who conducts several small orchestras, along with film archivists, educators and film distributors.

The petitioners argue that URAA, which was enacted to enable the U.S. to comply with  international treaties that protect copyrights of American works, is cost prohibitive because it imposes restrictions on works the petitioners previously freely performed, adopted and distributed, and that the "recopyright" law is an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional power. 

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that the URAA was not violative of the First Amendment.

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