When top US Appeal Judges rejected a challenge to an extension of the US copyright term from “life of author plus 50″ to “life plus 70″, there were groans from free information addicts.
Who: Eric Eldred
When: January 2003
Where: The United States Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court pronounced judgement on a challenge to the constitutionality of the 1998 "Sonny Bono" Copyright Term Extension Act. This extended the standard period of protection for copyright works in America from life of author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years. The challenger to this legislation was Eric Eldred, a publisher of public domain material on line. He argued that amongst other things the 1998 statute breached First Amendment "free speech" considerations, but after hearing submissions the Supreme Court judges threw out the challenge by a majority of 7 to 2, thus upholding the copyright term extension.
Why this matters:
This decision has been greeted by public domain supporters as a blow to the free circulation of ideas and to the underlying principles of the internet. What seems to have been missed by many commentators, however, is the fact that the Sonny Bono law did nothing more than bring the standard US copyright protection term into line with that prevailing in Europe. Whilst many still mistakenly believe that most forms of copyright last for the life of the author plus 50 years, the position in Europe has for many years been that this term has been extended to life plus 70 years, and this is now definitely the position across the Atlantic thanks to the rejection of this time-wasting challenge.