April 5, 2009  ·  Lessig

I am very happy and very very proud to report a big victory in Golan v. Holder. As you may recall, Golan was filed at the time Eldred v. Ashcroft was in the Supreme Court. The case challenged the URAA, which restored the copyright to works in the public domain. We lost in the district court, but then the CA10 reversed that decision, holding (for the first time ever) that the First Amendment restrained Congress when it changed the “traditional contours of copyright” beyond those explicitly mentioned in Eldred (idea/expression dichotomy and fair use). The CA10 sent the case back down to the district court, and Friday, Judge Babcock granted our motion for summary judgment, holding that the URAA violated the First Amendment to the extent it restored copyright against parties who had relied on works in the public domain.

I suspect we’ll be hearing more about this case.

  • http://www.socialsecuritybullshit.com Steve Baba

    “there’s-no-way-in-hell-you’ll-win-that-one “

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the legal view was NO CASE IS A SURE WINNER (especially if you lost once and won on some novel legal view):

    Protect yourself from business lawsuits: –and lawyers like me – Google Books Resultby Thomas A. Schweich – 1998 – Law – 223 pages
    Consequently, any lawyer who tells you your case is a sure winner is lying

  • Robert F.

    It sounds like you’re pleased with the outcome, but I don’t really get it. Perhaps you could write about the possible implications of this?

  • b.

    Too bad Sonny Bono did not revive already expired copyrights. Too bad nobody argued that, if the 1909 act was still valid law for anything created before 1976, that Sonny Bono could not be applied to works created before 1998 without “changing the traditional contours of copyright”.

  • Jake

    My law professor, Ed Lee, worked on this. Congrats to him, Lessig, an the rest of the team!

  • Chris Parry


  • http://www.christopher-parsons.com Christopher Parsons

    Congrats! A win for the public domain is always a good thing! :D

  • Jim Carlile

    Didn’t Sonny Bono’s wife try to get going the “infinity minus one day” copyright term, too? A wonderful example of “limited” duration…

    Because there’s so much money involved (all of Tolkien’s works, for example) I doubt SCOTUS will uphold the decision if asked. It’s all about property rights these days, and copyrights have been succssfully framed as if they were like houses, where people were somehow trying to take them away from the poor artist or heir.

    Question: my understanding of URAA restoration is that it did not apply if the foreign works had been copyrighted already in the U.S. and the terms had expired. In that case, they were still in the public domain. This would include many British books pre-1978.

    Is this in fact the case, and wouldn’t that mean that many older, already-once-copyrighted foreign works in the U.S. were exempt from restoration? If so– because so many were once in U.S. copyright– it’s not so serious a problem for the PD.