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Golan v. Holder (2012)

In March 2011, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of Golan v. Holder. The case is a challenge to the Uruguay Round Agreement Act, legislation passed in 1994, which restored copyright protection to many foreign works that had risen into the public domain in the United States but continued to be protected in their home jurisdiction. The Act was passed to bring the United States into compliance with international treaty obligations under the TRIPS agreement, which requires signatories to offer reciprocal protection of co-signatories’ works.

The challengers argue that the Act is unconstitutional, saying that restoring copyright to works that had been in the public domain violates the First Amendment as well as the copyright clause of Article I, which gives Congress the power to protect creative works “for limited times.” The case raises a similar question to Eldred v. Ashcroft, in which the court rejected a challenge to copyright term extensions. The appeals court previously rejected the constitutional arguments, so the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear the case suggests that at least some Justices thought these arguments deserve another day in court. As Kevin Smith of Duke University has observed, the Golan case may involve a sufficiently dramatic interference with the “traditional contours of copyright,” that the Supreme Court may reach a different conclusion.

the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of the US Government in Golan v. Holder, a case that challenged the constitutionality of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act. The Act restored copyright protection for foreign works that had previously been in the public domain in the US because the copyright owners had failed to comply with formalities such as notice, or because the US did not have copyright treaties in place with the country at the time the work was created (e.g., the Soviet Union). The US Supreme Court made clear that constitutional challenges against a copyright statute will not succeed so long as the provision does not have an unlimited term, and does not tread on the idea/expression dichotomy or the fair use doctrine. In June 2011, ALA, ARL, and ACRL joined an amicus brief written by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in support of reversal.

On Jan. 18, 2012, the US Supreme Court held that Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act does not exceed Congress's authority under the Copyright Clause. They affirmed the judgement of the lower court 6-2.



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