Now the case is heading to the U.S. 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.