Mudcat Café message #799276 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #52243   Message #799276
Posted By: Genie
08-Oct-02 - 11:20 PM
Thread Name: Copyright Extens.Case @ SCOTUS 10/9/02
Subject: RE: Copyright Extens.Case @ SCOTUS 10/9/02
Since this link does not seem to be working, here is the article I was trying to steer you to.
Genie
 
 

                   Free Mickey
                   Stanford Law Professor seeks to overturn
                   the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act

                   Hal Plotkin, Special to SF Gate
 
                                                                 Thursday, September 26, 2002
 

                   Opening arguments are set to begin early next
                   month in Eldred vs. Ashcroft, a landmark U.S.
                   Supreme Court case that will decide the future of
                   copyright law, including how and when artists and
                   writers can build upon the work of others.

                   At issue is the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono
                   Copyright Term Extension Act, which was enacted in
                   1998 with strong support from Hollywood's
                   politically powerful studios. The law extended the
                   length of copyrights for an additional 20 years (or
                   more in certain cases) and gave new protections to
                   corporations that own copyrights.

                   Opponents -- which include dozens of the nation's
                   leading law professors, several library groups, 17
                   prominent economists, and a coalition of both
                   liberal and conservative political action groups -- say
                   it serves no legitimate public purpose, violates the
                   clear intentions of our nation's founders regarding
                   copyrights and is unconstitutional.

                   To heighten public awareness of the importance of
                   the case an Internet bookmobile is set to depart San
                   Francisco next Monday on a trip that will bring it to
                   the steps of the Supreme Court building in
                   Washington, D.C., before arguments wrap up. The
                   van, which will be stopping at schools, libraries and
                   senior centers along the way, is equipped to provide
                   free high-speed access to thousands of literary and
                   artistic works that are already in the public domain.

                   Tens of thousands of additional books would have
                   come into the public domain (meaning their
                   copyrights would have expired) over the next few
                   years, but now they won't thanks to the Sonny Bono
                   law.

                   The U.S. Constitution states:

                   "The Congress shall have power to promote the
                   progress of science and useful arts, by securing for
                   limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive
                   right to their respective writings and discoveries."

                   So when Congress passed, and President Clinton
                   signed, what turned out to be the latest of 11
                   consecutive extensions to the length of copyrights, it
                   raised a very important question: Exactly what does
                   the phrase "for limited times" mean?

                   It's this long overdue question that is about to get a
                   hearing before the high court, with Stanford Law
                   School's professor Larry Lessig, co-founder of
                   Creative Commons and author of "The Future of
                   Ideas," representing the lead plaintiff in the case,
                   Eric Eldred.

                   Eldred operates the Eldritch Press, which offers free
                   online access to a staggering array of published
                   material already in the public domain. Visitors to his
                   site, which include students from around the world,
                   can download everything from English translations
                   of works by Russian writer Anton Chekhov to an
                   early "Introduction to Zoology" written by the father
                   of science in Great Britain, T. H. Huxley. Eldred is
                   suing the federal government to obtain access to the
                   material that would have come into the public
                   domain were it not for the Sonny Bono Copyright
                   Extension Act.

                   The public derives obvious benefits from sites such
                   as Eldred's. Further extending copyrights, on the
                   other hand, enriches copyright owners but offers no
                   discernable benefits to the rest of us. That lack of
                   symmetry forms the heart of the case. The U.S.
                   Constitution specifically prohibits Congress from
                   limiting freedom of speech unless doing so serves a
                   clear and important public purpose (preventing
                   pranksters from yelling "fire" in a crowded theater is
                   the classic example).

                   To be sure, writers and artists need and deserve
                   continued copyright protection. But Eldred's legions
                   of backers maintain that the framers of our
                   constitution never intended to extend that
                   protection to the grandchildren of writers and
                   artists. They add that it's also pretty unlikely that
                   struggling artists would decide not to create
                   something today because their heirs 100 or more
                   years in the future won't be able to keep selling it.

                   What's really happened, they say, is that
                   corporations that outlive artists and creators have
                   won legal protections that are hurting everyone else.

                   The original decision made more than 200 years ago
                   to limit the length of copyrights was deliberate and
                   carefully considered. The goal, which was expressed
                   at the time in letters written by Thomas Jefferson
                   and others, was to allow newcomers to build on and
                   improve works produced by others, but only after the
                   original creators of those works were compensated
                   fairly for their efforts. The reason: Human progress
                   builds upon itself.

                   Take, for example, the invention of the wheel. It led
                   to countless other innovations: gears, flywheels,
                   wheelbarrows, bicycles and cars, to name just a few.
                   Although the wheel was an invention, copyrighted
                   literary and artistic works hold the same potential
                   for creating derivative works that benefit the public.
                   In the time since Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic
                   children's book "The Secret Garden" entered the
                   public domain in 1986, for example, it has, among
                   other products, spawned a movie, a musical, a
                   cabaret adaptation, a made-for-TV movie, a
                   cookbook, a CD-ROM, a second musical adaptation,
                   a stage play, a radio program, a reader's guide and a
                   video, according to a list compiled by Arizona State
                   University law professor Dennis Karjala. And that's
                   just one public domain property.

                   Little if any of the creative and economic activity
                   those productions unleashed would have taken place
                   if artists, writers and producers were not free to use,
                   embellish and improve upon the original.

                   So then, if the public domain is such a good thing,
                   what led to the latest extension in the length of
                   copyrights?

                   In two words: Mickey Mouse.

                   In the late 1990s The Disney Corporation was
                   panicked because the copyright on its famous rodent
                   was about to expire. So Disney assembled a group of
                   heavy hitters in the entertainment industry,
                   including Time Warner, DreamWorks SKG, the
                   Recording Industry Association of America and Sony
                   Corporation, which poured more than $6 million
                   into congressional campaign coffers. Congress
                   returned the favor by passing the new law, which it
                   absurdly named after the pop-singer
                   ex-Cher-partner-turned-politician who had just died
                   after crashing into a tree while skiing stoned on
                   Vicodin and Valium.

                   What makes this sorry tale even more ironic is that
                   the Disney Corporation's fortune was itself built
                   largely from commercially successful animated
                   reproductions of free public domain works from the
                   19th century, including Alice in Wonderland, Snow
                   White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella,
                   The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and The Jungle
                   Book. So what we have is a company that got rich
                   off the works of others that now doesn't want to let
                   anyone else play by those same rules.

                   Unfortunately, when it comes to copyrights,
                   changing the rules is par for the course.

                   In 1790, when copyrights were first enacted, they
                   lasted 14 years and could be extended for 14 more if
                   the writer was still living. The latest extension, in
                   1998, boosted that term by 20 additional years for
                   works copyrighted after January 1, 1923, while works
                   produced by individuals after 1978 got copyrights for
                   the life of the author plus 70 years (up from the
                   previous 50). Meanwhile, intellectual properties
                   made by or for corporations were given 95 years of
                   protection.

                   Based on actuarial tables, that means a new work
                   produced today by a 25-year-old would not fall into
                   the public domain until about 2127 (80-year life
                   expectancy, plus an additional 70 years).

                   What's even more mind-boggling is to think about
                   what might have happened if this same law had been
                   in effect during the last century. How many good
                   ideas that we now take for granted would not have
                   been developed, how many shows would never have
                   opened, how much recent social, artistic, literary
                   and scientific progress would not have occurred?

                   To take it a step further, just imagine if the idea was
                   extended to patents as well, as some have suggested.
                   Humanity would have had to wait an additional
                   century or longer for the advent of commercial
                   television because it was based, in part, on ideas
                   originally developed for radio. Likewise, airplanes
                   might still be on the drawing board, held back in
                   development because some inventor's grandchild tied
                   up access to an essential component they had no
                   role in creating.

                   The argument that professor Lessig will be making
                   next month is that what is at risk is nothing less
                   than society's right, embodied in our constitution, to
                   continue to develop and grow by building upon the
                   works of previous generations.

                   Regrettably, Congress has repeatedly shown that it is
                   willing to erode those rights in exchange for
                   campaign contributions.

                   Now, it's up to the Supreme Court. Let's hope that
                   at least five of the justices have taken time to read
                   the constitution they are sworn to uphold.