In a major defeat for public domain advocacy, the US Supreme Court has ruled against Lawrence Golan and others in Golan v. Holder.
Here is an excerpt from a synopsis of the case from the Legal Information Institute:
Congress enacted Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act in order to comply with the international copyright standards of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Section 514 restores copyright protection to foreign works currently found in the public domain. Lawrence Golan and other performers, educators, and motion picture distributors brought this suit challenging Section 514, arguing that Congress's removal of works from the public domain exceeded its Copyright Clause powers. Golan also argues that Section 514 violates the First Amendment because the law does not serve any important government interests. Attorney General Holder counters that the Copyright Clause does not restrict Congress's authority to remove works from the public domain. He further argues that Section 514 does not violate the First Amendment because the government has a substantial interest in complying with the Berne Convention and protecting American works abroad.
Here's an excerpt from the ruling:
Congress determined that U. S. interests were best served by our full participation in the dominant system of international copyright protection. Those interests include ensuring exemplary compliance with our international obligations, securing greater protection for U. S. authors abroad, and remedying unequal treatment of foreign authors. The judgment §514 expresses lies well within the ken of the political branches. It is our obligation, of course, to determine whether the action Congress took, wise or not, encounters any constitutional shoal. For the reasons stated, we are satisfied it does not. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is therefore Affirmed.
In a lengthy dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said:
The fact that, by withdrawing material from the public domain, the statute inhibits an important preexisting flow of information is sufficient, when combined with the other features of the statute that I have discussed, to convince me that the Copyright Clause, interpreted in the light of the First Amendment, does not authorize Congress to enact this statute.
Justice Samuel Alito also dissented.
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