Supreme Court Upholds Right To Reinstate Copyrights For Works In The Public Domain

The 6-2 U.S. Supreme Court decision favors content owners including Hollywood studios over an unusual coalition of public interest and Internet activists including Google. At issue was whether the federal government had the right in 1994 to pass a law that extended copyright protection to works that were already in the public domain. Lawmakers acted to sync U.S. copyright law with other countries’ rules as part of a broad trade agreement known as the Uruguay Round. But the change meant that public groups lost access to works including Alfred Hitchcock’s 1932 film Number Seventeen,  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” — and about 1 million books that Google said it wanted to make available online. Those challenging the change said that the government had trampled on the First Amendment without a compelling reason. But the Supreme Court justices deferred to Congress’ right to decide the national interest. The MPAA was pleased: The ruling “demonstrates that the United States fulfills its international copyright obligations and will remain a world leader in protecting creative works, thereby helping foster their continued creation and dissemination,” Chief Policy Advisor Fritz Attaway says.

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