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Court Upholds Copyright Law on 'Orphan Works

  Court Watch  -   POSTED: 2007/01/23 06:41

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Monday dismissed a challenge to the constitutionality of changes to copyright law made in the 1990s. The Court affirmed a lower court's dismissal of Kahle v. Gonzales, in which the plaintiffs argued that the move from an "opt-out" rather than an "opt-in" system of copyright law required a First Amendment review in order to be upheld as constitutional. Under the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998, a new "opt-out" system effectively meant that copyrighted works created from 1964 to 1977 are automatically renewed. In upholding the constitutionality of the CTEA, the Court relied on the 2003 Eldred v. Ashcroft ruling in which the Supreme Court held that the CTEA did not violate the First Amendment.

Monday's opinion faulted plaintiffs for making "no compelling reason" for the Court to depart from Eldred's holding and explained the Court's stance on copyright term duration as determined by weighing the impetus provided to authors by longer terms against the benefit provided to the public by shorter terms. That weighing is left to Congress, subject to rationality review. The CTEA also retroactively extended statutory copyright protection by another 20 years beyond the original term of the author's life plus 50 years, thus decreasing the number of works entering the public domain. Ownership of orphan works is often difficult to determine, and archives such as Google, Yahoo!, and academic libraries have lobbied for less stringent copyright laws in order to increase the amount of information open to the public domain.


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