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Supreme Court Takes Up Scholars' Rights 190

Posted by Soulskill
from the freedom-of-teach dept.
schwit1 writes with this quote from the Chronicle of Higher Education: "For 10 years, Lawrence Golan has been quietly waging a legal campaign to overturn a statute which makes it impossibly expensive for smaller orchestras to play certain pieces of music. Now the case is heading to the US Supreme Court. The high-stakes copyright showdown affects far more than sheet music. The outcome will touch a broad swath of academe for years to come, dictating what materials scholars can use in books and courses without jumping through legal hoops. The law Mr. Golan is trying to overturn has also hobbled libraries' efforts to digitize and share books, films, and music. The conductor's fight centers on the concept of the public domain, which scholars depend on for teaching and research. When a work enters the public domain, anyone can quote from it, copy it, share it, or republish it without seeking permission or paying royalties. The dispute that led to Golan v. Holder dates to 1994, when Congress passed a law that moved vast amounts of material from the public domain back behind the firewall of copyright protection. The Supreme Court is expected to decide the case during the term that begins in October."
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Supreme Court Takes Up Scholars' Rights

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  • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @02:48AM (#36371998) Journal
    I remember reading that when Lawrence Lessig went to the supreme court to challenge copyright law, the court kept asking for examples of damage caused by the law, and Mr Lessig kept answering in abstract legal/constitutional principles. The court seemed to be of the opinion that, "if it's not hurting anyone, (and is benefiting copyright holders), there's no reason to change it."

    So this time the professor has lots of evidence that actual damage is being done. It will be interesting to see if the court changes their opinion based on this new evidence.
  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @03:20AM (#36372124) Homepage

    As far as I know, copyright on works affected by the Eldred decision had not yet expired. I don't agree with the Eldred decision, but I think there's a big difference between extending the term of protection on copyrighted works and granting copyright on works that have entered the public domain. They're simply different issues.

    As for treaties and the US Constitution both being considered "the supreme law of the land", such an observation does nothing to address how conflicts should be resolved when one bit of "supreme" law contradicts another bit of "supreme" law. I don't have much confidence in the US Supreme Court these days, but my hope is that any conflicts shall be resolved in favor of US citizens.

  • by burris (122191) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @03:33AM (#36372176)

    You're right that Eldred doesn't directly apply but it reveals the justices thinking. As the infamous Jack Valenti said before Eldred was decided, "Limited means whatever Congress says it means." I doubt much has changed since then.

    I don't see how returning something to protection for a limited time conflicts with the copyright clause, perhaps you could elaborate.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @03:55AM (#36372258) Homepage

    With respect, I believe that Lessig also answered in abstract terms because he's a tenured professor with a strictly theoretical knowledge of the law, and (demonstrably) very little understanding of how courts and judges actually operate. Ultimately, his argument was reduced to "Aw, c'mon", and appropriately enough, his textbook knowledge has provided a textbook example of how not to argue a case.

  • by White Flame (1074973) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @04:03AM (#36372288)

    My take on things is not that congress simply has the power to grant copyrights, but that congress has the power to grant copyrights "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". As in, if copyrights are granted for any other reason (e.g. to appease lobbyists or make any entity more money), it is an unconstitutional act.

  • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @04:11AM (#36372336) Homepage

    I don't see how returning something to protection for a limited time conflicts with the copyright clause, perhaps you could elaborate.

    That's a good question. I don't really have an answer except to say that restoring copyright on works for which the term of copyright has already expired makes "limited times" a meaningless concept. I realize that's basically the same line of reasoning used in Eldred, but my hope is that extending copyright on public domain works is outrageous enough that the justices will think straight for a change and recognize this.

  • Re:US-centric (Score:4, Interesting)

    by metacell (523607) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @04:16AM (#36372358)

    I don't see a problem with articles about conditions in the USA, as long as they make clear they only pertain to US conditions. It only annoys me when someone assumes US conditions apply to the whole world, and I don't think articles (or summaries) here on Slashdot usually make that mistake.

    I like to read a lot about US copyright law and foreign policy, because, like it or not, what they do affect things in my own country.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @05:30AM (#36372578)

    Actually, there is fairly old case law that affirms that the Constitution trumps any treaty. I'm not sure whether that helps in this case, though, since it's unclear how much weight SCOTUS would actually give the "to promote the progress of science" clause in determining whether Congress has the power to place public domain works back into copyrighted status. Plus, there's the Commerce Clause to rain on everyone's parade yet again.

    Personally, I think this would be more interestingly argued as an unconstitutional taking from the public without just compensation in violation of the fifth amendment.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @05:41AM (#36372618)

    No, it's 8-1 because there's no evident legal basis to overturn the lower courts.

    There's enough legal basis to uphold or overturn anything that makes it in front of the Supreme Court. They decide based on their personal opinion, then pull legal basis that supports their opinion, ignoring all else. That's why the results of the case can often be correctly guessed before the case is even heard by the Supreme Court. And that's also why it's so important that parties stack the courts to force their opinion on everyone, regardless of the law. No, not all "activist judges" are Democrats. All the Republican judges are as well, they just happen to "activist" in the general direction of the nutjobs that run around screaming "activist judges."

  • by metacell (523607) on Wednesday June 08, 2011 @06:26AM (#36372766)

    It's also legally very problematic to retroactively revoke rights. If a work is in the public domain, you have the right to do what you want with it, including performing them publicly and creating derived works. If the work becomes copyrighted again, who owns the derived works? What happens if someone has bought and paid for the copyright to a derived work?

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. -- Niels Bohr

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