Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts United States

US Supreme Court Upholds Removal of Works From Public Domain 380

Posted by samzenpus
from the taking-it-back dept.
langelgjm writes "While much of the web is focused on the SOPA and PIPA blackout, supporters of the public domain today quietly lost a protracted struggle that began back in 2001. The Supreme Court, in a 6-2 decision, rejected the argument that Congress did not have the power to convey copyright upon works that were already in the public domain. The suit was originally filed to challenge provisions that the U.S. adopted when signing the TRIPs agreement. Justices Breyer and Alito dissented, arguing that conveyed copyright on already existing works defied the logic of copyright law. Justice Kagan recused herself. The text of the opinions is available here (PDF)."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Supreme Court Upholds Removal of Works From Public Domain

Comments Filter:
  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:10PM (#38743232)
    The copyright terms should be fixed at the moment a work is granted copyright. Future laws should have no power to change when an existing work is transferred to the public domain.
    In these specific cases however I'd vote on the side of the court. The copyright terms granted to the works were those in effect in the country they were produced, so should be respected.
    Retroactively extending copyright should be outlawed and all extensions should be revoked.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:10PM (#38743234)

    missed the part about Congress there didn't you?

    Here are some copyright holders complaining [deadline.com] about the people to whom they give money.

  • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pieterh (196118) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:10PM (#38743240) Homepage

    You miss the point here, which is that international treaties such as the Berne Convention and TRIPS are written and promoted into law by (US and European) copyright lobbies. So it's nice and circular. US law says A, so $$$ creates international law that says B, and now US law regretfully changes to say B. This tactic is also used by governments when they want to pass really unpopular legislation, e.g. the data retention directive in Europe, which was kicked out of the UK Parliament, pushed into EU law by the UK government, and then brought back to the UK without dissent.

  • Bush Nominees (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:27PM (#38743438)

    Did anyone notice the two dissenters were appointed to the court by President George W. Bush?

  • by mangu (126918) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:28PM (#38743440)

    As Heinlein said:

    "But I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; If I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am responsible for everything I do."

      ("The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress", 1966)

    BitTorrent exists for a purpose.

  • by paulsnx2 (453081) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:28PM (#38743446)

    Just for fun, let's get congress to copyright all of the Supreme Court's Rulings, and give them to Disney.

    If they want to research something, then given them Pay For View and they can listen to Donald Duck act out their old rulings.

    Maybe that would give them some insight into what they just did to the public.

  • by Nugoo (1794744) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:29PM (#38743456)

    Well, that's it. I no long feel guilty about copyright infringement. If you can't keep your end of the bargain, why the fuck should I?

    Looks like I'll have to change my sig, too.

  • by forkfail (228161) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:43PM (#38743620)

    They'll call it the "mea est ergo meus" principle (it is mine, therefore it is mine).

    The argument will go like this:

    We (Disney) own the modern canonical version of Snow White. Therefore, we own all previous versions, otherwise, our trademark and copyrights would be weakened, and there would be confusion in the marketplace. And by extension, everything else by the Brothers Grimm is ours, too.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:49PM (#38743682)

    Doesn't surprise me much after I read this, "The Constitution of the United States of America including analysis and interpretation of the Constitution with annotations of cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States through June 29, 2004" @ http://law.justia.com/constitution/us/ [justia.com] .
    Kinda woke me up to the "Brave New 1984" this place is turning out to be and it's not crap by some nutball, its SCOTUS telling us black is white, 2+2=3 . Frankly, I suspect some of the nutballs are on to something.

  • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rockman_x_2002 (1791612) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:55PM (#38743744)

    That does appear to be the case. Oh there's still public domain as a sort of status, however temporary. But this renders anything in public domain into what's essentially a nebulous limbo until someone comes along and stakes claim to it to re-up the copyright on it.

    Naturally it would be in the best interest for a public domain interest group to form and keep a watchful eye on all works entering into public domain, staking claim to said works as soon as it fall into public domain, then immediately releasing it under a sort of GNU-type license that everyone can have free access to the work(s) in question.

    After all, as long as someone has a claim to it, especially if it's a collective group for the express purpose of keeping public domain items free for general use by the public, doesn't that still accomplish what public domain has for all these years anyway? It's just a way of working around this new ruling to render it the same.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:03PM (#38743818)

    When are you people going to wake up and realize that the US government, courts, etc., hold the "Constitution" in as much regard as a piece of used toilet paper.

    Jesus, people, wake up and smell the coffee - the "government" does not work for you and could not give a damn about you rights! It is bought and paid for by the 1% and run by the 0.1 %

    I don't give a shit if it is the Demicans or the Republicrats. Neither works for you. The 2-party system has been completely overtaken by money.

    For a supposedly smart bunch people, you really are dumb. The experiment is done. The results are that the psychopaths win.

  • by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:50PM (#38744216)

    It is called ACTA. So yes you are right.

    But our government (NZ) is not as corrupt and in fact comes out routinely as one of the least corrupt in the world. Not that I am being patriotic. We are probably just too small to be worth buying! :)

    Of course buying politicians with campaign donations is not considered corruption by many - and for those they deserve what they get...which is this and many other things.

  • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CaptBubba (696284) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @09:17PM (#38744372)

    Nice job omitting out the rest of the line because it doesn't agree with your agenda:

    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;

    I'd say that's pretty darn clear in indicating that authors are included, and even more so when you know the history of the clause. The wording is actually a mashup of two proposals: one for protection of author's works (submitted by Charles Pinckney) and one to protect inventions (by James Madison), which were combined into the current wording by a Committee. Oddly enough the copyright and patent clause is the only time the word "right" comes up in the body of the constitution (it appears again in the amendments).

    So, yes Copyright is in the constitution.

  • Re:No, there is not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tlhIngan (30335) <[ten.frow] [ta] [todhsals]> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @09:48PM (#38744582)

    Ideas are the most valuable commodity on the market today. Maintaining and increasing wealth is a simple matter of maintaining and increasing control over that which is valuable.

    Actually, ideas are a dime a dozen. You probably come up with 10 in-between waking up and getting into work every day.

    The real money's not in ideas, but in the expression of them. An idea for a book is worthless - the actual written story becomes valuable. An idea for a movie, a song, ditto - worthless until they are filmed or recorded. Ideas for inventions, ditto - "I wish someone would invent something that ..." - worthless. Actually making it - that's valuable.

    And that's what people want to control - an idea costs nothing and people come up with dozens daily individually. But taking that idea to completion takes work, and controlling that work is power.

  • by thisissilly (676875) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:21PM (#38744784)
    ...then why aren't we charging copyright holders Property Tax?
  • Re:Terrible (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MobyDisk (75490) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:47PM (#38744968) Homepage

    I'm glad you are quoting the constitution, but you are completely misunderstanding it. The clause you are referring to was specifically meant to grant the power to make copyright law. You are trying to interpret the constitution in a way that suits your needs, without the appropriate historical context. Let me explain:

    The clause states:

    "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."

    Based on the language of the constitution, the writings of the founding fathers, and the historical basis in the common law system, the constitution is specifically granting congress the power to make copyright law. One of the reasons the writers of the constitution did this was because the Articles of Confederation did not grant the government this power, which means each state had it's own copyright law. This was annoying for obvious reasons. And in case there is still any thought that it was not intended: James Madison, fourth president, "Father of the constitution" was the one who signed the first copyright law into effect.

    Try this link for a bit of background [digital-law-online.info] for some background.

  • Eminent Domain (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bratwiz (635601) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:41PM (#38745308)

    On the other hand, two can play that game. Whaddaya say that we all get together collectively and decide that all that crap the RIAA and MPAA keeps sputzing on about would really be better for everyone if it were simply "community property". Then by the (appropriately expanded and annexed) notion of "Eminent Domain" we simply appropriate it for the community-- legally, of course-- you know, the American way-- and then we'll all own the copyrights on it and nobody will have to worry about anything else the RIAA or MPAA ever says or does again. Which will leave them free to pursue more lofty pursuits, such as beating up homeless people or kicking disabled people in wheelchairs or something. I mean, it really would work out better for everybody that way.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:50AM (#38745580)
    "by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries"

    Wouldn't this mean that the rights should not be able to be transferred? For instance, wouldn't this mean it's Unconstitutional for the RIAA to have the rights to something they did not write or discover. And that said rights should only belong to the author and inventor of said writings/discoveries?
  • by therefore (1076249) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @01:27AM (#38745680)

    No. This would be ex post facto: Something that was once in the public domain, and legal for anyone to copy, and you copied it when legal, say, in 1990. Congress passed a law in 2012 that not only made it illegal to copy it in the future but retroactively made your 1990 act illegal. That would be unconstitutional. That is not what happened. That said, there are constitutional questions (just read the dissent).

  • by fnj (64210) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @04:56AM (#38746330)

    You are not merely wrong, but do not understand the basis of the Constitution. The Constitution exists to PROHIBIT the Federal government doing ANYTHING that it doesn't SPECIFICALLY empower it to do. You don't have to find a place in the Constitution where it says the Federal government CANNOT do X. You only have to establish that nothing in it that says it CAN do X.

    The relevant empowering section in this case reads:

    "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"

    It means what it says. A law specifies how long copyright lasts - the time MUST be limited. Then when the copyright runs out, the work passes into the public domain. There is no Constitutional basis for then magically re-instituting copyright after it has run out, by passing some new law after this event which WOULD HAVE resulted in a longer period of copyright, had the new law existed at the time the work was originally published.

    In fact the Constitution specifically says "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." The definition of Ex Post Facto is "Formulated, enacted, or operating retroactively."

    I realize that the Constitution is no longer used as anything more than toilet paper nowadays. BUT SOME OF US NOTICE. Yes, we notice.

  • by honkycat (249849) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @09:56AM (#38747832) Homepage Journal

    I agree with you that this is not a good law, and I'm certainly not pleased with the direction that copyright law is heading. However...

    It means what it says. A law specifies how long copyright lasts - the time MUST be limited. Then when the copyright runs out, the work passes into the public domain. There is no Constitutional basis for then magically re-instituting copyright after it has run out, by passing some new law after this event which WOULD HAVE resulted in a longer period of copyright, had the new law existed at the time the work was originally published.

    This is a very specific and very narrow interpretation of the Constitution that you are making. The power given by the quote you cited is much broader than just allowing a specific law. In addition to the powers specifically granted, Congress has (and must have) the power to employ laws necessary to achieve those goals, even if they're not specifically called out. Furthermore, there's no legal requirement that Congress make particularly wise or effective laws. As long as the law reasonably "promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts," it's probably Constitutional, even if there would be a better way to achieve that goal.

    I'd certainly like to shorten copyright terms (although this is a more complicated issue than it's often given credit for), but it's not hard to imagine a retroactive copyright law that does qualify as providing "limited Times." A 70 year term that takes effect an arbitrary time after creation is technically a limited time. One could argue whether it's truly limited, but you could add a limit on the time before the start of the enforcement to achieve that.

    It's already been established that extensions are legal as long as the terms are limited at each point. This is unfortunate, but I think the logic is correct. This is something that needs to be corrected at the Congressional level.

"Ignorance is the soil in which belief in miracles grows." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

Working...