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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)."
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US Supreme Court Upholds Removal of Works From Public Domain

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  • by wealthychef (584778) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:02PM (#38743150)
    this court won't do to rob ordinary citizens of property?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not when it benefits the rich and powerful.

    • No, there is not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Brain-Fu (1274756) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:12PM (#38743276) Homepage Journal

      "What do all men with power want? More power." -- The Oracle (from The Matrix).

      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.

      There is no principle of justice or reason which will not be trampled underfoot in the name of increasing the power of the aristocracy.

      The only way to get the aristocracy to treat the rest of the world reasonably is to force them to do so. Appeals to fairness or practicality will not make them budge. The rest of us have a numbers advantage but that only helps when we are organized enough to use it. If you want reasonable copyright terms, you will have to force their hand. Count on it.

      • by cusco (717999) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:30PM (#38744042)
        People in Peru tell me they look up to the US because we don't have corruption. My reply is that the US is every bit as corrupt, just that normal people can't afford to buy a "public official" here because they're too expensive.
        • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:10PM (#38744726) Homepage Journal

          And you are wrong.
          Please. you have no clue what corruption is like in Peru, and many other countries.

          When was the last time you had to pay off the cable guy on top of your normal payment? when was the last time you had to slip an extra hundred to get your water turned on?

          When was the last time the police came to you house so sell you 'protection'?

          Please.

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

            by guacamole (24270) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:32PM (#38744852)

            I agree. I have spent some time in Central America. Observations: No-existent police network (ok, they exist, but won't do anything to protect you). Every public official, from a village mayor to the minister president surrounded by cronies who steal right and left by millions.. no comparison. The 'crimes' of the American legislators for which they went down in the Jack Abramoff affair were laughable in comparison.

          • by aztektum (170569) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:31AM (#38745502)

            US corruption is different, but more pervasive than "paying off the cable guy." It's global.

            The US government has twisted entire countries to do its bidding. We've installed tin pot dictators that suppress their entire country in order to please the US. Kind of hard to pay off that level of corruption with an extra $5.

            • seriously. It's a matter of scale. That corruption in Peru, it destroys your home. Corruption in the US destroys nations.
        • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @12:17AM (#38745458) Homepage

          Let me suggest a different, more optimistic narrative. Back in 2000 during the ongoing Bush-Gore legal fights, I was in a conversation with my brother and a mutual friend of ours whose family had emigrated from Venezuela. My brother expressed that he was appalled at what was happening and how it was making an absolute laughingstock out of the US. Our friend disagreed and said (slight paraphrase): "You don't understand. In much of the world, this would be solved by fighting in the streets until one's sides army faction gained ascendancy. This is being resolved with paperwork not bullets. This is the height of civilized behavior."

          The situation here is similar. A 6-2 legal decision that allows in some limited circumstances some works in the public domain is pretty good behavior. The comparison to make is having members of the government come around at gunpoint and take property they want to give to their friends. We can disagree with a court case, but the fact that these sorts of things are decided by the courts shows how far we've come. This is by no means perfect, and what Bush and Obama have done with Guantanamo and other issues shows that we need to remain vigilant and constantly fight against the slide into violence and tyranny. But that doesn't mean either that we should lose perspective about where our society stands.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2012 @04:22AM (#38746218)

            This argument of "at least we're not a shitty country like China or Venezuela" is complete bullshit and no excuse for allowing what evils we do have to flourish. For some reason this apologetic "perspective" making is pervasive all of the sudden. However, it makes little sense. The reason we're not like these countries is that we don't tolerant corruption of any kind, on principle. As soon as you start allowing it because "it's not so bad", it becomes easier to erode our liberties that much further.

            Yes, it is better than using violence to solve an argument, but it's no less wrong and no less an example of weak individuals selling the public's liberties to the moneyed interests.

            • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
              Please reread my post, I'm by no means arguing for complacency. In particular please reread the sentence about Bush and Obama.

              Yes, it is better than using violence to solve an argument, but it's no less wrong and no less an example of weak individuals selling the public's liberties to the moneyed interests.

              No. This is a wrong attitude. Having people use violence to take away personal property is substantially more wrong than using the court system to take away public liberty with public domain works. In this framework, the scale of what is being lost is smaller, and people *aren't dying* or being injure. Physical violence is almost always worse. One of the main ways civilization has

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @09:47PM (#38744574) Homepage Journal

        There is no principle of justice or reason which will not be trampled underfoot in the name of increasing the power of the aristocracy.

        Because it's not enough that they are rich and have power. They must also see to it that everyone else is poor and powerless.

        For these people, being rich and powerful is no fun unless you have a sufficient supply of poor and weak people. For comparison, you see.

        There is an ugly, pathological strain at the top. It's like the scum that forms on a pond. Without stirring things up every once in a while, this scum grows unabated.

        There was a great presentation at TED not too long ago about income disparity, how it makes a society sick. The greater the income and wealth disparity, the more depression, the more addiction, the more crime, the more unhappiness. And of course, when you have great disparity, you have less and less social mobility. That's why countries like Denmark and Finland and Sweden and Germany and others have greater social mobility than the US. If you are poor in the US, you are very likely to stay poor. If you live over there, you have a greater chance of moving up. That's why you hear people say, "If you want to live the American Dream, move to Denmark" (or Finland, etc).

        I really believe it's time that the people who have wealth and power are overdue for a lesson in social responsibility. These lessons are seldom very pleasant, but it didn't have to go this way. They really believed, since the "Reagan Revolution" that there would be no end to their party of theft and destruction.

        Mitt Romney-types like to talk about "creative destruction". I think he's due for a lesson in what "creative destruction" means.

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

        by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> 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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      ahahahahhahahahahha. Snort.

      Now they are taking away things already in the public domain?? Your legal system is as hilarious to watch as your government. Put the two together and it is just comedy gold.

      I mean it wouldn't be as funny if the corruption wasn't so obvious but as we all know - hyperbole is hilarious.

      You are so screwed....

      • by schroedingers_hat (2449186) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:25PM (#38743986)
        Don't worry, they'll force their laws on your country, too with 'free trade' agreements and treaties..
        • 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.

        • by FairAndHateful (2522378) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:05PM (#38744678)

          Don't worry, they'll force their laws on your country, too with 'free trade' agreements and treaties..

          The article indicates that this law/judgement was to comply with an international treaty. Something about works that were in the public domain in the US that were still copyrighted in other countries. Looks like this came to the US from the other side this time. Doesn't make it make a lot of sense.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            most of those international provision are pushed by the US and agreed internationally because then the US can play the card '!!foreign are forcing our hands!!' instead of having to put up with unrest and agitations (see: ACTA and SOPA history)

      • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:30PM (#38744040) Homepage Journal

        Your legal system is as hilarious to watch as your government. Put the two together and it is just comedy gold.

        Is your country currently accepting refugees from our legal system?

        • Yes. IT geeks have basically a fast track to citizenship in this country. I hire a lot of foreigners including someone from California just recently. :)

          And don't blame kiwis for being too stupid to take the jobs...our best and brightest (except me) all leave for Australia!

      • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:20PM (#38745192)

        Now they are taking away things already in the public domain?? Your legal system is as hilarious to watch as your government. Put the two together and it is just comedy gold.

        Just out of curiosity, were they in the public domain in your country? If you read the fine article [wired.com], you'll note that it says

        For a variety of reasons, the works at issue, which are foreign and produced decades ago, became part of the public domain in the United States but were still copyrighted overseas. In 1994, Congress adopted legislation to move the works back into copyright, so U.S. policy would comport with an international copyright treaty known as the Berne Convention.

    • by forkfail (228161)

      What do you mean?

      Our corporate citizens are finally not being quite so discriminated against!

      However, though this small battle has been won, the war is far from over. There are still a few rights that the so-called "natural citizens" have that are unjustly denied to the corporate citizens.

      Furthermore, there is still a chance that Them The People might take back the instrument of the People (the government), and stop it from being turned to its proper use (the tool of the corporate fiefs).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

  • Terrible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jhoegl (638955) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:02PM (#38743154)
    So, if Congress so wishes... they can apply copyright to anything in the public domain.
    Shakespear here we come!
    • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Informative)

      by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:06PM (#38743210) Homepage
      I haven't read the opinion, but generally speaking, my understanding is that international treaties signed by the US are on the same legal level as the Constitution. So if the Berne Convention says that such-and-such must be copyrighted, then Congress must have de facto power to copyright it.
      • 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.

        • by Kaenneth (82978)

          Well, some laws are best implemented everywhere at once; things like greenhouse gas controls. No one county wants to cripple its industries by placing expensive restrictions that no other country yet has. Otherwise companies will just move to those countries that lack the laws.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        Ya, it's a supreme court ruling, so it's going to the power congress does or does not have. Not whether or not it should be doing those things. Public domain isn't somehow embedded in the constitution to make it superior to the will of congress, even if that puts existing copyright law on par with anything else congress does, it can still vote to change it.

        For all of the things wrong with copyright in the US, there's a lot to be said for the simplicity of the same copyright rules applying everywhere, or a

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by KiloByte (825081)

          From my reading of the US constitution, the Congress is not allowed to enact any copyright laws at all. 10th Amendment disallows messing with anything that is not an enumerated power (as defined by article 1 section 8). The referred to power allows "promoting Science and Useful Arts".

          This can be read two ways:
          * in 18th century, "useful arts" did not mean "art" in today's sense of the word; this clause allows patents
          * if you use "art" in the modern sense, this disallows copyright on typical entertainment (

          • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Insightful)

            by PRMan (959735) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:35PM (#38743532)
            And beyond that, anything that doesn't promote additional works should be unconstitutional. Taking dead authors' works out of the public domain doesn't encourage creation.
          • Despite that the copyright and patent clause is the only enumerated power that has a preamble, the Supreme Court has interpreted this preamble "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" as nonbinding. It has chosen to defer to Congress in determining what "promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts".
          • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Anonymous Coward

              You seem to have misread the sentence you quoted - which really takes some effort. The semantic structure is as follows:

              To do A, by doing B.

              This means to do B in order to achieve A. Not doing B in order to achieve C, or doing B in all possible cases.

              "A" here is promoting the progress of science and the useful arts. "B" is implementing a copyright system. So Congress has the right to implement a copyright system to the extent that it promotes the progress of science and the useful arts. If an aspect of the copyright system

          • Re:Terrible (Score:4, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @09:37PM (#38744512)

            Yeah.. with logic like that, don't go to law school unless you want to be laughed out of the room (Oh and IAAL).

            Let's read what the Constitution (Article 1 Section 8, Clause 8) actually says instead of what you wish it said:

            "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;"

            Using parallel liguistic construction you see that the Progress of *Science* is promoted by granting grant *Authors* the exclusive Right to their *Writings*. Now, I know this is Slashdot where ignorance gussied up with some technobabble is trumpeted as being "enlightened" but the bolded term "Science" does *not* cover what patents cover, but instead covers what we today would call art, literature, music, and the other *works of authorship* covered under copyright law.

          • 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.

      • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Informative)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:32PM (#38743486)

        I haven't read the opinion, but generally speaking, my understanding is that international treaties signed by the US are on the same legal level as the Constitution.

        This understanding is incorrect. Its a reasonably common misapplication of Art. VI, para 2: "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."

        This doesn't mean that treaties (or federal statute law) is on the "same legal level" as the Constitution, it means that the Constitution itself, and any treaties or laws ratified or adopted under it, are superior to acts of state government.

        The rationale in the decision in this case [wired.com] is basically that the Copyright Clause has no language in it which prohibits retrospective application of the exclusive rights Congress is authorized to grant under that Clause, and that, there is a long history of Congress creating copyright in existing works which were in the public domain, the whole way back to the first copyright law under the Constitution, the Copyright Act of 1790.

    • Re:Terrible (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jd (1658) <imipak@nOSPam.yahoo.com> on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:11PM (#38743248) Homepage Journal

      Which, in effect, means there is no public domain, since this means there is retroactive copyright. Which is rather a frightening concept given how much has been put out in the public domain for the express purpose of nobody owning it.

      • 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.

  • Fifth Amendment? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:04PM (#38743180) Journal

    The fifth amendment prohibits the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. We need an amendment that prohibits the taking of public property for private use without just compensation.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      The fifth amendment prohibits the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. We need an amendment that prohibits the taking of public property for private use without just compensation.

      NDAA put an end to that, as well as the patriot act, and don't forget the whimsical executive orders. The Corporate states of America consider you nothing more than property to be bought and sold.

    • We need an amendment that prohibits the taking of public property for private use without just compensation.

      Who are you going to compensate? How are you going to figure out how much to pay who ever you compensate? If you roll back the copyright on MLK's 'I have a dream speech', are you going to mail a check for $1.21 to everybody in the USA?

      This is a bad ruling, because it sets a president that allows for congress to monkey (further) with copyright. And, it seems to be a well established pattern that
  • by Scareduck (177470) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:05PM (#38743192) Homepage Journal

    "Um, hello, I own the rights to 'Snow White' and all the properties of the Brothers Grimm. We need to discuss your flagrant infringing use of my client's intellectual property dating back to the very founding of your company."

    • by jd (1658)

      Sadly, it's Disney that's likely to be placing the call. The way IP works in the US these days, it would not surprise me if corporations can (and do) retroactively seize control of works by others even from other countries if they have been made public domain.

      • 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.

  • How does copyrighting a previously public domain item even work? I mean, if someone copyrights, say, a book in the public domain, and I then go ahead and reprint that book, I can state that my copy is a printed version of the public domain version, and any copyright claim should be moot, since they can't prove I used the copyrighted version. Am I missing something?

    Madness.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      In that case any copies made prior to becoming protected again would be fine, but those made after the change wouldn't be. However, the big problem is one of ownership, once something goes into the public domain you can't just take it out of the public domain as in many cases nobody would have legal right to assume ownership of it.

    • by jd (1658)

      It means that if they copyright the pd work, they own all derivatives of that pd work, even if the derivative was made before they claimed copyright. It's the only way it could work.

  • 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 esocid (946821) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:10PM (#38743242) Journal
    It's sort of strange that of all the international treaties, this is the one that is going to be enforced in the US. /not that I agree with it at all.
  • Congratulations... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by His Shadow (689816) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:11PM (#38743252) Homepage Journal
    The US has created a system that is terrified that someone, somewhere, is not making money in perpetuity on property they did not create.
  • WTF (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shentino (1139071) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:22PM (#38743388)

    Seriously, WTF?

    Don't we have something in the constitution about, I dunno, ex post facto laws?

    What about all those people who copied or derived from formerly public domain works that are now under copyright again?

    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:35PM (#38743526)

      Seriously, WTF?

      Don't we have something in the constitution about, I dunno, ex post facto laws?

      An ex post facto law is a law which makes an act criminal (or increases the criminal punishment applicable to the act) after the act was committed. Applying copyright to existing works (even to the extent that copyright law has criminal elements) isn't an ex post facto law.

      (It would be if doing so meant that the exclusive rights under copyright and the criminal penalties that apply for violating them applied to acts which occurred prior to the passage of the law taking the works out of the public domain, but that's not the issue here.)

  • 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?

    • Re:Bush Nominees (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nixoloco (675549) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @07:51PM (#38743698)

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

      No, because they weren't. Justice Stephen Gerald Breyer was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

  • 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 jbeaupre (752124)

      Could you please post the text to MLK's "I have a dream" speech? Others might have their own requests.

      We might as well take full advantage of your sig.

  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:06PM (#38743838)
    This extends copyright protection, in the US, to works still under copyright protection abroad and brings the US in line with Berne Treaty; essentially providing the same protection to foreign authors as it does to US. Once those copyrights expire the works will revert to the public domain. SCOTUS appears to leave open the argument that continual extension of copyright would be unconstitutional; in this ruling they said Congress has the right to bring US law inline with treaties and the Constitution's copyright provision does not prevent that. Congress should have done that when they ratified the teary but didn't; and that doesn't prevent them from later doing so.
    • by slew (2918) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @08:44PM (#38744156)

      I think most folks have missed the sublty in the decision and the dissent. As my submission on this topic didn't make it, I'll just repost my view here.

      Although the jist of the argument is if congress has the right to restore or extend copyright protection to works that were prior legally in the public domain in the USA before the treaty was in effect to come into compliance with the treaty, that wasn't the whole argument. The Berne Convention and the Uruguay Rounds allowed for a country to have restricted terms for works that had restored copyright to account for any disruption pulling things out of the public domain might cause. Apparently, the US congress decided to just do a blanket restoration of rights instead of any restricted terms which were allowed by the Treaty (specifically article 18 of the Berne Convention).

      The subtle legal argument was that if by granting blanket restoration of rights congress overstepped its authority granted by the constitution by not restricting the rights as much as was allowed, but still compliant with the convention. In a disenting opinion authored by Justices Breyer and Alito voices the view that this legal implementation "does not serve copyright's traditional public ends, namely the creation of monetary awards that motivate the create activity of authors", but only grants its restored copyrights only to works already produced. Whereas just providing for minimal restored rights allowed by the treaty would still promote the activity of future authors by giving them the global opportunities for monetary rewards that would come by international copyright harmonization.

      It's subtle, but an important distinction that, unfortuantly, seems to have been botched by the majority of the court (in my opinion). It's clear to me that the court generally agrees that congress has this specific power to change copyright in the context of this treaty (under the promotion of authorship provisions), but disagrees on if Congress actually stepped across the line on this specific implementation law. It isn't about compliance with an international treaty in general (the Parent/poster didn't make this mistake, but several other posters did), as it is certainly the court's perogative to say that the signing the treaty was against the consitution, if that were the case.

  • by thisissilly (676875) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @10:21PM (#38744784)
    ...then why aren't we charging copyright holders Property Tax?
  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday January 18, 2012 @11:26PM (#38745214) Homepage Journal

    Disney literally built their empire on PD works. Most of their best-loved and most successful movies come from work that predates copyright--their original classics (Snow White, Pinocchio, and Cinderella), the films that sparked their revival in the late 80s/early 90s (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin), and many others.

    FUCK THEM, and the lawmakers they buy. Read that old paper you swore to uphold: Article I, Section 8: "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"

    Key words there:

    • "limited times" -- yes, a million years is "a limited time" but you know that's not what they meant
    • "authors and inventors" -- not "their descendants and agents."
    • "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts" -- not "to promote megacorps' bottom lines"

    Fuckers, it's not even halfway down the page. [archives.gov] PD did exactly what it was supposed to do: things that weren't in copyright were available for (in this case) Disney to do wonderful things with. Now, art will be relatively inaccessible from 1928 on.

  • 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 Sloppy (14984) on Thursday January 19, 2012 @10:52AM (#38748440) Homepage Journal

    (I must be in an optimistic mood this week.)

    That it's Congress' right to set the timing to whatever, was pretty much settled by Eldred, but this takes it to new degree. In Eldred we learned that Congress can change the expiration date after the work is already published; today we learn Congress can change the expiration date after that date has already arrived. The issues of fairness and the sanity of time-travel really are off the table as far as the Constitution / SCOTUS is concerned, so if you don't like it, then you have to persuade Congress.

    That's interesting, because the last time copyright durations were extended, I always assumed that even if we corrected this corruption, the correction wouldn't be retroactive. Something with a 90-year countdown going, would remain counting down from 90, even if copyright durations got amended to 14 years or something like that.

    But SCOTUS is saying it doesn't have to be that way. If Congress can take works that are currently public domain and make them copyrighted, then Congress can take works that still have 76 years of copyright and say they're now public domain.

    Congress can really do pretty much anything it wants with copyright, short of literally using the word "unlimited" in durations (since that word's antonym is in the constitutional clause that gives them the right). Should the people ever start voting for a Congress that will reform things, that Congress will have the legal power to give people what they want.

    In an unrealistic extreme example, if you (and by you, I mean everyone) vote for 14 years copyright this year, Congress can pass it in January and all works published prior to 1999 could instantly become public domain. Not that it would happen, but if it did, SCOTUS would support it.

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