Supreme Court Upholds 20-Year Extension of Copyrights. Technology and Recording Industries Agree on Digital Copyright Principles
I. Supreme Court Upholds Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998
On Jan. 15, 2003, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, upholding, by a vote of 7-2, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (“CTEA”), which extended the duration of both existing and future copyrights by twenty years. Under today’s decision, copyrights for works created by individuals will now run for 70 years after the death of the creator, and anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works made for hire are now protected for 95 years.
Congress passed CTEA in 1998 after extensive lobbying by major copyright owners. The CTEA was also intended to make United States copyrights equivalent to the copyright terms adopted by the European Union in 1993.
Eric Eldred, who manages a public Internet-based library, and other Petitioners challenged CTEA as unconstitutional. They alleged that the statute, by enlarging the term for published works with existing copyrights, violates both the Copyright Clause’s prescription that copyrights will be protected for only “limited times” and the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
Following the lower court decisions in both the court of appeals and the district court, the Supreme Court rejected these arguments. The Court first explained that the Constitution’s reference in the Copyright Clause to “limited times” did not mean that a copyright period, once set by Congress, may not be altered or extended. The Court also relied on historical precedent, noting that Congress had previously given authors of works with existing copyrights the benefit of term extensions in 1831, 1909, and 1976 and that Congress had similarly conferred such extension on patent holders. Having found that the CTEA did not violate the “limited times” prescription, the Court concluded that the 20-year extension of copyrights was a rational exercise of Congress’ legislative authority, particularly because it would ensure that American authors would received the same copyright protection in Europe as their European counterparts would under the Berne Convention.
The Supreme Court also rejected Petitioners’ claim that CTEA’s extension of copyright terms constituted a regulation of public speech that violates that First Amendment. The Court observed, “copyright’s limited monopolies are compatible with free speech principles.” It explained that copyright law has “built-in First Amendment accommodations,” including the distinction between expression (which is protected) and ideas (which are not), and the “fair use” defense under the Copyright Act. The Court found that CTEA provides additional protections, such as permission for libraries to copy works in certain circumstances and exemptions for small businesses from having to pay performance royalties on music played from licensed radio and television facilities. The Supreme Court concluded, “The First Amendment securely protects the freedom to make—or decline to make—one’s own speech; it bears less heavily when speakers assert the right to make other people’s speeches.”
Justices Stevens and Breyer dissented, saying that the majority accorded too much deference to Congress and thereby failed “to protect the public interest in free access to products of inventive and artistic genius.”
II. Technology and Recording Industries Reach Agreement on Digital Copyright Principles
In another copyright-related development, the Business Software Alliance (BSA),1 Computer Systems Policy Project (CSPP),2 and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)3 announced yesterday that they had reached an agreement on seven core principles governing their “activities in the public and policy arenas during the 108th Congress.” The agreement, which was termed a “landmark consensus” by the groups that signed it, supports the development of technical protection measures to limit copyright infringement but rejects government-imposed requirements. The agreement also emphasizes that private companies, not the government, should determine how to meet consumer expectations for new music and new technologies.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was notably absent from the consensus group. In contrast to the private enforcement of digital rights favored by the group, the MPAA is a powerful supporter of legislation mandating the inclusion of copy protection technology in digital media devices. It is also noteworthy that the agreement does not explicitly address “fair use” rights. Nevertheless, the existence of the agreement weakens the likelihood that legislation either to strengthen copyright protection or to expand fair use rights for digital content will be passed during this Congressional session.
Please let us know if you have any questions concerning either this case or the industry agreement or if you would like a copy of the Supreme Court’s decision.
1 BSA members include: Adobe, Apple, Avid, Bentley Systems, Borland, Cisco Systems, CNC/Mastercam, Dell, Entrust, HP, IBM, Intel, Internet Security Systems, Intuit, Macromedia, Microsoft, Network Associates, Novell, PeopleSoft, SeeBeyond, Sybase, and Symantec.
2 CSSP members include: Dell Computer Corporation, Intel Corporation, Hewlett-Packard Company, Motorola Corporation, NCR Corporation, IBM Corporation, EMC Corporation, and Unisys Corporation.
3 RIAA members include BMG, EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.