Golan v. Holder

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: January 18, 2012
  • Case #: 10-545
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined. KAGAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Copyright Clause and the First Amendment do not prohibit Congress from removing works that were previously placed in the public domain.

Article 18 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne) mandates that works of other member states is to be protected so long as the work’s copyright has not expired in the country of origin. Until 1994, the United States did not protect foreign works. Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) enforces protection of works that are protected in their country of origin. The petitioner argues that by enacting §514, Congress went above its authority under the Copyright Clause and violated the First Amendment. The Court of Appeals held that Congress had not offended the Copyright Clause and that §514 did not violate the First Amendment because the section is narrowly tailored to protect U.S Copyright holders’ interest abroad.

The Supreme Court held that Congress did not exceed its authority; the Copyright Clause does not exclude works in the public domain from copyright protection. Eldred, a recent U.S. Supreme Court case held that “no command…becomes fixed of inalterable” and the works having copyright protections restored by §514 are no less limited than those in Eldred. Historical practice shows that Congress has not understood the Copyright Clause to exempt existing works from protection. The Court further held that Congress reasonably believed that an international copyright system would aid the dissemination of all works.

Petitioner argued that there are “vested rights” in the works already in the public domain; stated another way, the public domain is untouchable by Congress. The Court held that §514 simply ensures these “public domain” works are in the same position as they would have been if the current copyright system were used at the time the works were created and published.

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