Overview Edit

Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA),[1] restored the United States copyrights of foreign authors who lost those rights to the public domain for any reason other than the expiration of a copyright term. These reasons included: the authors' failure to renew the copyrights with the Copyright Office, and failure to include a notice of copyright on the copyrighted works.

Section 514 of the URAA ostensibly implemented Article 18 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works — an international treaty first enacted in 1886, but not joined by the United States until 1988.

Article 18 requires member nations to provide copyright protection to works by foreign authors so long as the term of copyright protection in the country of origin has not expired as to a specific work.[2]

Constitutional challenge Edit

In Golan v. Ashcroft,[3] the plaintiffs represented a broad range of artisans and businesses that rely upon works in the public domain for their trade. The plaintiffs challenged Section 514 — as well as the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) — under the Copyright Clause and the First Amendment. Section 514 of the URAA — by granting copyright protection to the foreign authors — removed from the public domain the works upon which plaintiffs relied.

The plaintiffs claimed that as the subject works were now protected by U.S. copyright law, plaintiffs found themselves in the position of having to either pay for their previously royalty-free use, or cease using the works altogether. Plaintiffs argued their First Amendment rights were violated by Congress when these works were removed from the public domain.

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Government or dismissal as to each of the claims, holding: "I see no need to expand upon the settled rule that private censorship via copyright enforcement does not implicate First Amendment concerns."

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the trial court's rulings as to plaintiffs' Copyright Term Extension Act claims and plaintiffs' Copyright Clause claims, but reversed the trial court's rulings as to plaintiff's First Amendment challenge to Section 514.[4] The Tenth Circuit remanded the case to the district court with instructions to assess whether Section 514 — which the Tenth Circuit determined interfered with plaintiffs' "First Amendment interest in using works in the public domain" — passed First Amendment scrutiny. The Tenth Circuit held that: "since § 514 has altered the traditional contours of copyright protection in a manner that implicates plaintiffs' right to free expression, it must be subject to First Amendment review."[5]

On remand, the district court held that removing works from the public domain violated plaintiffs' vested First Amendment interests.[6]

References Edit

  1. 17 U.S.C. §104A.
  2. See Berne Convention, Art. 18.
  3. 310 F.Supp.2d 1215 (D. Colo. 2004) (full-text), aff'd sub nom. Golan v. Gonzales, 501 F.3d 1179, 84 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1076 (10th Cir. 2007) ([501 F. 3d 1179 full-text]), on remand sub nom. Golan v. Holder, 2009 WL 928327, 90 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1202 (D. Colo. 2009) (full-text).
  4. See Golan v. Gonzales, 501 F.3d 1179 (10th Cir. 2007).
  5. Id. at 1197.
  6. Golan v. Holder, 2009 WL 928327, 90 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1202 (D. Colo. 2009).