Friday, October 22, 2010

Eldred mark 2 heads to the US Supreme Court

This week the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford University filed a petition for a writ of certiorari asking the United States Supreme Court to review the Golan case.  Ever since the Supreme Court ruled, in a split 7-2 decision in January 2003, against Eric Eldred (and his lawyer, Larry Lessig) who questioned the constitutionality of repeated extensions of copyright terms, copyfighters have been looking to return the issue to the Court's agenda.  The Golan case has been their great hope of, if not overturning, then putting a dent in the Eldred ruling.  Brewster Kahle failed to get the court to consider overturning Eldred in 2008. But since the Kahle case was all but the same as the Eldred case that was arguably an almost inevitable, if disappointing, outcome.

Technically the case is about re-applying copyright protection to thousands of foreign works the Copyright Act had previously placed in the public domain. Mr Golan performs and teaches works by foreign composers like Shostakovich and Stravinsky. He argues that the removal of some of these works from the public domain, due to changes in US copyright laws, led to higher costs to him for performance fees, royalties, sheet music rentals etc. When these costs are too high they may interfere with his first amendment rights to freedom of expression.

There are other issues being argued but effectively, like the Eldred case, this is about testing the limits of congressional power to continually expand the scope and term of copyright.  It will be really interesting to see whether the Court agrees to look at the case.

Random cybergeek trivia: Having argued and lost the Eldred case before the US Supreme Court, afaik Larry Lessig earned his first courtroom victory in September 2007, in the Golan case.

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