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Creative works’ Authors are accorded by the United States copyright system with the power to control the use of their work for a limited time period. The expiry of this period is followed by the availability of the once copyrighted material for public use, under the public domain. Though many libraries have always relied upon the public domain, it has been narrowed due to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003). The court decision held that the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998 encompassed the acting of Congress within its Constitutional authority, when it extended the copyright duration by 20 years for both new and existing copyright works (Eldred v. Ashcroft, 2003).
This case’s prosecution is made up Eric Eldred, certain individuals and businesses whose products and services were extracted from the works contained in the public domain, whose copyrights were extended. The defendant in the case was John D. Ashcroft, the attorney general. The charges encompassed CTEA’s acting beyond their authority, under the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee and the Copyright Clause’s limited times prescription, when they extended the copyright duration (Guibault 135). The main issue included the extension of copyright duration for works in the public domain. This case took place in the Supreme Court of United States, in 2003. The other relevant information to be shared on the basis of this case encompasses the copyright and patent clause that accords the Congress with the power to provide authors the authority of controlling the use of their work for a limited time. What is at stake in this case is the Congress’s authority in patents and copyrights.
Though the petitioners held that the Congress acted above its authority under the limited time prescription of the Copyright Clause and free speech guarantee of the First Amendment, CTEA terms did not violate the Copyright Clause’s limited time prescription and the First Amendment does not accord the rights to utilize copyrighted works.
According to the petitioners, the claims that warrant this law suit are three fold.
The first one includes the violation of the Constitution’s Copyright Clause by Congress, as it accords the Congress with the power to promote useful arts and sciences by providing authors with the right of controlling the use of their works for a limited time. In this case, extending the copyright duration for works in the public domain violated this Clause’s intent (Lessig 326). The second claim asserts that CTEA encompasses an impartial speech directive that cannot go through the normal legal appraisal required for such set of laws, under the First Amendment.
The third claim encompassed the fact that the removal of copyrighted works from the public domain violated the public trust doctrine. This doctrine requires the government to ascertain the public benefits to be extracted from the relinquishing of public property to private ownership, before such an action can be taken (Zelezny 169). The evidence provided in this case encompasses the previous exercise of the congress’ authority in terms of the Copyright Clause in 1790, 1831and 1909. I refute these claims, based on the fact that CTEA terms are not perpetual and are still limited.
In this case, they do not violate the limited prescription of the Copyright Clause; hence, they are within the discretion of the Congress (Guibault 136). Additionally, no rights exist under the First Amendment that allows the use of copyrighted works. Under the second claim, copyrights do not restrict free speech impermissibly. This is because it accords the authors with exclusive rights over the expression form and does not limit the use of facts and ideas contained in the copyrighted works. As such, it permits the fair expression and use of the copyrighted material.
As per the third claim, it translates to a considerable public benefit. This is because according to the European Union’s 1993 directive, a baseline copyright duration was prescribed at 70 years and this could not apply for any non-EU works, whose laws did not prescribe the same duration (Lessig 327). In this case, harmonizing between the two terms would aid all US works to enjoy a similar copyright protection, as that extended to the European works. This includes a public benefit for Americans.
The Defense’s response to the first claim encompassed the fact that the Congress bore the powers for retroactively extending the terms, as long as the extensions were for a limited time, as per the Copyright Clause contained in the Constitution. To argue for this position, the defense relied upon the Copyright Act of 1790 that encompassed the first legislation to susceptibly protect existing works. As such, they claimed that the Constitution provided the Congress with the power to set the limited time, under which the author could control the use of his work (Zelezny 170). In this case, it did not specify the number of years to be set and left that discretion to the Congress.
For this reason, extending the number of years to 70 encompassed acting within the authority accorded by the Copyright Clause to the Congress (Lessig 327). In response to the second claim, the defense affirmed that the copyright scheme was made up of a variety of protecting defenses and functions that made it unsuitable for analysis. As such, the Copyright Clause and the First Amendment were established and adopted in close proximity, to ascertain the fact that the Copyrights Clause encompassed a free expression engine, because it was aimed at promoting the publication and creation of free expression.
In response to the third claim, the defense asserted that in copyright cases, the doctrine of public trust is inapplicable (Guibault 136). Essentially, they ascertained that the application of the extension to copyrighted work in the public domain cannot be prescribed as a removal of that material from the public domain. This is because a works’ copyright protection does not extend to ideas, processes, operation methods, procedures, principles, discoveries or concepts regardless of their illustration, explanation, embodiment or description in the work. These do not cease to be public property, even after the extension of copyrights for works contained in the public domain.
Additionally, the harmonization of the CTEA terms, with those of the European Union encompassed a public benefit for all, as US works would be accorded with the same copyright protection, as the works of the authors from Europe (Lessig 326). My response to these claims is in the affirmative, because they are strongly based on the statements of the Copyright Clause, the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee and the doctrine of public trust.
The court’s ruling was that the Congress acted within the authority accorded to it under the Copyright Clause, when it extended the copyright duration by 20 years. Essentially, the court affirmed that the extension did not violate the free speech guarantee under the First Amendment, owing to the fact that the copyright provides the fair use of the copyrighted works by the public (Zelezny 169). As such, the public is permitted to use various materials contained in the works, which are inclusive of expression, as per certain prescriptions. In this case, the fair use accords with leeway for commentary, learning and burlesque.
As per the court’s understanding, these encompass free speech, as prescribed under the First Amendment. In addition, the Constitution confers the power of ascertaining the limited time for a copyright, but does not prescribe the number of years for which the copyright is viable. This discretion lies on the Congress. My response to this decision is that the ruling was fair for both parties (Lessig 327). This is because it was based on the consideration of arguments from both sides, historical and Constitutional evidence from the First Amendment, Copyright Act of 1790 as well as the European Union’s directive of 1993 that proffers the consideration of the public trust’s doctrine to the extension of the copyright term life.
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In conclusion, though the petitioners held that the Congress acted above its authority under the limited time prescription of the Copyright Clause limited time prescription and free speech guarantee of the First Amendment, CTEA terms did not violate the Copyright Clause’s limited time prescription and the First Amendment does not accord the rights to utilize copyrighted works.
Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003)
Guibault, Lucie M. C. R. The Future of the Public Domain: Identifying the Commons in Information Law. Alphen aan den Rijn: Kluwer Law Internat, 2006. Print.
Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity. New York: Penguin Press, 2005. Print.
Zelezny, John D. Cases in Communications Law: Liberties, Restraints, and the Modern Media. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2011. Print.