Supreme Court Weighs in on Copyright Protection for Foreign Works

On January 18, the United States Supreme Court decided an important copyright case, Golan v. Holder, that I’ve been tracking. The Supreme Court upheld a 1994 law [§514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994] granting copyright protection to a large number of foreign works that had been freely available in the public domain. The petitioners who challenged the Act consisted of a group of musicians, publishers and conductors

§514 specifically sought to offer protection to works published abroad which had not previously enjoyed protection in the United States.  In doing so, §514 brought back under copyright works which had previously been in the public domain in the United States.  The petitioners in Golan argued that in doing so, Congress exceeded the authority granted by the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and also infringed on their First Amendment right to free expression. – American Bar Association February 2012 IPL eNews

Held: In a 6-2 decision (Justice Kagan did not participate), the Supreme Court upheld the Tenth Circuit’s ruling that §514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 did not violate the First Amendment.  Further, the high court also ruled that the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution did not prohibit Congress from removing works from the public domain.  Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Alito, authored a dissenting opinion.

Read the full text of the opinion in Golan v. Holder here. [updated 2/4/2012]

See the current makeup of the Supreme Court here.