Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Golan v. Holder

I am not going to pretend to understand the intricacies of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Golan v. Holder but I am interested in any copyright case that makes its way to the United States Supreme Court.

This case involves the Supreme Court affirming Congress’s 1994 amendment to the Copyright Act which retroactively restored copyright protection to certain foreign works previously thought to be in the public domain in the United States. The rationale was to bring the United States into compliance with the Uruguay Round Agreements Act treaty and cause United States’ works to be awarded reciprocal protection overseas.

The bottom line is that works by Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Shostakovich, books by J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells and George Orwell as well as paintings by Picasso are still protected by U.S. copyright. I get this (although as an aside, I am always amazed to discover that many so-called classical Russian composers actually were products of the 20th Century). What confuses me is how this U.S. law intersects with the laws of many European countries which inject copyrights such as sound recordings into the public domain after 50 years. This has always seemed inconsistent to me. It does appear that copyright law continues to erode the concepts of limited duration and public domain and extend the period of protection for creative works.

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