Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA)

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CTEA: The Basics

The United States copyright system lets authors of creative works control how those works are used for a limited period of time. After this "limited time" has passed, creative works that were protected by the copyright monopoly are made available for the public to use as they see fit. As creative works fall into the public domain, the public is allowed to use those works as they wish, including to create new works from that previously protected source material.

Libraries and library patrons value and depend on the public domain. Unfortunately, the public domain has become much more narrow as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003).

In a 7-2 decision issued on Jan. 15, 2003, the Court held that the Congress was within its constitutional authority when it passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (Pub. L. 105-298, §§ 102(b) and (d), 112 Stat. 2827-2828) in 1998, extending copyright duration 20 years, and resurrecting copyright on works that had fallen into the public domain. Since the Eldred decision, several cases based on similar arguments have been rejected: Kahle v. Ashcroft (2004 WL 2663157 (N.D.Cal.), 72 U.S.P.Q.2d 1888); Golan v. Gonzales, No. 01-B-1854, 2005 WL 914754 (D. Colo. Apr. 20, 2005; and Luck's Music Library, Inc. v. Gonzales, 407 F.3d 1262 (D.C. Cir. 2005).

The Public Domain Enhancement Act HR 2408, 109th Cong. (2005), sponsored by Zoe Lofgren of California, would impose a renewal requirement on copyright owners who wish to receive the full term extension (a requirement that was eliminated by the CTEA). Renewal would be required at 50 years into the copyright’s term and every 10 years thereafter, at a nominal fee of $1. Lofgren introduced a similar bill in 2003, but it died in committee. The 2005 Act has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property.

Materials

The following information will help AALL members understand the CTEA and how it affects libraries and librarians.

Member Articles

Documents

  • Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186., 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003).
    • Majority Opinion* (01-618) : Majority (Ginsburg) and dissenting opinions in Eldred v. Ashcroft. (U.S. Supreme Court)
    • Eldred oral argument transcript: An unofficial transcript of the oral argument between the Justices, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, and U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson.
    • Docket: The official online docket in Eldred v. Ashcroft (01-618). (U.S. Supreme Court)
    • Eldred amicus curiae brief*: The American Association of Law Libraries and other organizations filed a brief in the Eldred case in opposition to the CTEA. (AALL Washington Office)
    • Petitioners' brief*: The brief filed by petitioner Eric Eldred in opposition to the CTEA. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
    • Respondents' brief*: The brief filed by the United States in support of the CTEA. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
    • Eldred.cc (http://eldred.cc/eldredvashcroft.html): A website explaining and advancing the views of the petitioners, including named party Eric Eldred.
    • Lessig.org: The official website and weblog of Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, who argued that the CTEA is unconstitutional.
  • Kahle v. Ashcroft case page, including links to briefs and orders in the case: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/about/cases/kahle_v_ashcroft.shtml Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society
  • Golan v. Ashcroft case page, including links to briefs and orders in the case: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/about/cases/golan_v_ashcroft.shtml Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society
  • Affidavit* submitted by Hal R. Varian, dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
  • Copyright Term Extension Act Brief: A summary of the CTEA's major points. (ALA Washington Office)
  • When Works Pass Into the Public Domain: An easy-to-read chart that simplifies copyright terms and public domain calculations by Lolly Gasaway, former Committee chairwoman. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Duration of Copyright: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15a.pdf A four-page circular from the United States Copyright Office explaining the various provisions of the law dealing with the length of copyright protection.

Legislation