Eldred v. Ashcroft
Supreme Court Issues Opinion ÃÂ¦ Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments ÃÂ¦ Library Associations file brief with U. S. Supreme Court ÃÂ¦ Supreme Court Accepts Appeal ÃÂ¦ Library Associations File Brief to U. S. Supreme Court
January 15, 2003: In a decision disappointing to the library community, the U.S. Supreme Court on January 15 upheld, by a vote of 7 to 2, the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. The Act, passed by Congress in 1998, extends the copyright term for an additional 20 years, so that a commercially-produced work is now governed by the provisions of copyright law for 95 years; for an individual's work the term is "life of the author" plus 70 years.
In Eldred v. Ashcroft, the Court held that Congress acted within its authority under the Constitution's Copyright Clause when it expanded the term of protection. The Court held that it "was not at liberty to second-guess congressional determinations and policy judgments of this order, however debatable or rejected arguments against the Act under the First Amendment. In doing so, Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, noted that the Copyright Act's "fair use" provision provides a "built-in" First Amendment accommodation. Two justices, Stevens and Breyer, filed separate dissenting opinions in which they expressed strong disagreement with the majority's holding.
Supreme Court Opinions
Majority opinion by Justice Ginsburg:
Dissent by Justice Stevens:
Dissent by Justice Breyer:
October 9, 2002: The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case challenging the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act—Lawrence Lessig argued on behalf of the plaintiff. The five major national library associations and ten other groups submitted an amici curiae brief in support of the challenger. A decision is expected in the Spring of 2003.
ALAWON Volume 11, Number 83 October 10, 2002: The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in the copyright term extension case
Library associations and other groups file "friend of the court" brief with U.S. Supreme Court in challenge to constitutionality of Copyright Term Extension Act. Briefs were filed on May 20 in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. The appeal in Eldred v. Ashcroft asks the Court tooverturn a decision by the federal appeals court for the D. C. Circuit, which in February 2001 rejected the argument that the Copyright Term Extension Act is unconstitutional. The Act, passed by Congress in 1998, extends the copyright term for an additional 20 years, so that a work is now governed by the provisions of copyright law for the "life of the author" plus 70 years. The federal government's brief, defending the law, will be filed in June. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments from the parties this fall.
In support of the challenger's case, the five major national library associations and a number of other groups have submitted an amici curiae (friend of the court) brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that the extended term of protection for copyrighted works is unconstitutional. In addition to showing how the law exceeds the "limited times" of protection authorized by the Constitution's Copyright Clause, the brief highlights the importance of the public domain and the harm that flows from keeping works almost perpetually locked up.
Joining the brief of the American Library Association, American Association of Law Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association, and Special Libraries Association were the following organizations: American Historical Association, Art Libraries Society of North America, Association for Recorded Sound Collections, Council on Library and Information Resources, International Association of Jazz Record Collectors, Midwest Archives Conference, Music Library Association, National Council on Public History, Society for American Music, and Society of American Archivists.that it has granted the petition for certiorari filed last fall in a case challenging the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. The appeal asked the Court to agree to hear –and to overturn – a decision by the federal appeals court for the D. C. Circuit. In February, 2001, in a 2-1 decision, that court rejected the argument that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is unconstitutional, holding that retroactive term extensions are within Congress’ authority under the Copyright Clause and that the 20-year term extensions did not violate the First Amendment. The Act extends copyright protection or an additional 20 years (for an ordinary work, that term is now "life of the author" plus 70 years).
The case will present a great opportunity for libraries to explain our view on the importance of the public domain and the harm that flows from keeping works almost perpetually locked up. Amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of Mr. Eldred, the plaintiff who is challenging the law, will have to be filed by April 5. The oral argument before the Supreme Court will not take place until next fall.