May 21, 2002
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 (P.L. 105-298). The appeal in Eldred v. Ashcroft asks the Court to overturn 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 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. 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 ten other groups have submitted an amici curiae brief [PDF] 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 substantial harms that flow from keeping works under copyright protection almost perpetually, thereby stifling the public domain.
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. More information about the case is available at: http://eon.law.harvard.edu/openlaw/eldredvashcroft.