Updated: Golan v. Holder Merits Brief Explains Why Congress Is Not Allowed to Privatize the Public Domain
Today we filed our opening brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Congress's power to remove works from the public domain. For 200 years, the Copyright Act placed a huge array of works into the public domain through a combination of term limits and eligibility requirements. It created a vast reservoir of knowledge, learning and artistic creativity that millions of us use every day. Since creating the public domain in 1790, Congress amended the Copyright Act again and again to cover new types of works and lengthen copyright terms. But each time it did so, it left the public domain completely intact. It respected the fact that the public domain is public property, and cannot not be taken away.
That changed in 1994, when Congress passed a law that removed a vast body of foreign works from the public domain. This body of works included symphonies by Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinksy and Dmitri Shostakovich; books by C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells; films by Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir; and artwork by M.C. Escher and Pablo Picasso. The Register of Copyrights estimated the works affected by this law "probably number in the millions."