Eldred v. Ashcroft

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{work, book, publish}
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Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003) was a court case in the United States challenging the constitutionality of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). Oral argument was heard on October 9, 2002, and on January 15, 2003, the Supreme Court held the CTEA constitutional by a 7-2 decision.

Contents

Background

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (or CTEA) extended existing copyright terms by an additional 20 years from the terms set by the Copyright Act of 1976. The law affected both new and existing works (making it both a prospective extension as well as a retroactive one). Specifically, for works published before January 1, 1978 and still in copyright on October 27, 1998, the term was extended to 95 years. For works authored by individuals on or after January 1, 1978 (including new works), the copyright term was extended to equal the life of the author plus 70 years. For works authored by joint authors, the copyright term was extended to the life of the last surviving author plus 70 years. In the case of works-for-hire, anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term was set at 95 years from the date of first publication, or 120 years from creation.

The practical result of this was to prevent a number of works from entering the public domain in 1998 and following years, as would have occurred under the Copyright Law of 1976. Materials which the plaintiffs had worked with and were ready to republish were now unavailable due to copyright restrictions.

The lead petitioner, Eric Eldred, is an Internet publisher. Eldred was joined by a group of commercial and non-commercial interests who relied on the public domain for their work. These included Dover Publications, a commercial publisher of paperback books; Luck's Music Library, Inc., and Edwin F. Kalmus & Co., Inc., publishers of orchestral sheet music; and a large number of amici including (but not limited to) the Free Software Foundation, the American Association of Law Libraries, the Bureau of National Affairs, and the College Art Association.

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