Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Jeffrey Rosen analyses the copyright extension case currently before the US Supreme Court. In 1998 Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), extending copyright terms on original works (books, films, music, photos...) by 20 years, from the author's lifespan plus 50 years to author's life + 70. (This brings the US in line with EU copyright terms, set at author's life + 70 by EU Council Directive 93/98 in 1993.) Why? The Walt Disney Company and other large corporations holding valuable copyrights lobbied heavily to protect their financial interests — i.e. they didn't want Mickey Mouse to pass into the public domain. Rosen lays out the constitutional grounds on which the Court might strike down the CTEA:

"... the Court has before it a law that is constitutionally offensive on every level: It clashes with the explicit limits on Congress's power set out in the text and original understanding of the copyright clause, it represents a naked transfer of wealth to a handful of greedy heirs of pop-culture icons from the '20s, and it threatens to constrict public domain on the Internet for generations to come."

The case should be of crucial interest to bloggers and other web publishers — it sets limits on what we can freely post online, limits beyond reasonable bounds. Author's life + 50 is more than adequate. Will naked greed triumph over the public interest? Set Mickey & Donald & Yeats & Joyce & Virginia Woolf free!

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