Public Domain Works Can Be Re-Copyrighted By Congress, Supreme Court Rules
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Congress can take books, music and other works from the public domain and re-grant them copyright status. This little piece of news got lost in the SOPA-shuffle yesterday (and a tip of my cap to jrbd for bringing it to our attention).
A public domain work is one for which the rights have expired. A good example is Shakespeare: You can do whatever you want with his plays--perform them, read them, copy and distribute them--without fear of some lawyer winging a briefcase at your head.
At issue here were works that were part of the public domain in the United States but were still copyrighted overseas. In 1994, Congress adopted legislation that would re-copyright these works to comply with the Berne Convention, an international copyright treaty.
But, a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers and film archivists protested, arguing that they rely on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihood. An appellate court had ruled against them and they petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The court ruled against them in a 6-2 decision, arguing that preserving the treaty was more important than creative expression. And it's a disappointing ruling, to say the least. From Wired:
The lead plaintiff in the case, Lawrence Golan, told the high court that [he] will no longer be able to perform Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony and Peter and the Wolf, or Shostakovich’s Symphony 14, Cello Concerto because of licensing fees.
A world without Shostakovich’s Symphony 14, Cello Concerto is one I don't want to face.
Seriously though, Wired has a good article about this, which includes a link to the decision (if you're into that sort of thing).
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