In a 6-2 decision, the high court finds that the U.S. Constitution’s promise to promote arts and sciences gives Congress the right to enter into an international treaty allowing foreign right-holders to restore copyright authority on some works that were previously in the public domain.
In the recent majority opinion, Golan v. Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ruled that Congress had the authority to bless an international treaty to “serve the objective of the copyright clause.” This treaty was created in Uruguay in 1994, harmonizing intellectual property laws around the world. Uruguay allowed many foreign-based works that had fallen to the public domain to be protected, hoping to receive reciprocity from the United States. The Supreme Court, however, rejected the arguments that millions of copyrighted foreign works should be restored to the public domain. Among those objecting to the protection were artists (led by Golan) hoping to create derivative works of foreign compositions, films, and other artistic material.
Justice Ginsburg assured in her ruling that the protections do not exclude American artists from using foreign material completely. For example, “Parties may continue to exploit a restored work […] and […] the treaty leaves undisturbed any fair uses of copyrighted works.”
The dissent argues that this decision will halt progress of art and that the treaty does not encourage anyone to produce a single new work because foreign rights-holders have complete authority over their material. The dissent adds that the treaty simply rewards owners of old works already in the public domain.
How will this decision change the current copyright laws regarding public domain? Does this mean that public domain works are never off limits for future copyright protection? Will this decision hinder the Constitution’s goal to promote the progress of science and useful arts?
For more information, see The Hollywood Reporter.