copy[2] Techdirt has a summary of the legal affairs surrounding the Golan copyright case, which has been bouncing back and forth between district and appeals courts and has finally officially been appealed to the Supreme Court.

The case has to do with taking works out of the public domain and putting them back under copyright—and by implication has to do with the results of the famous Eldred vs. Ashcroft case on copyright extension argued before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decision in that case said that Congress could make changes such as extensions as long as they do not “[alter] the traditional contours of copyright protection.”

The question here is whether Golan’s reversion of public domain works into copyrighted status alters traditional contours. Now, as far as I’d always heard, it is not supposed to be possible for a public domain work to revert into copyright. Once public domain, always public domain, even if copyright was extended the very next day after its copyright expired. I don’t know the specific details of this case, but it seems like that’s a very important distinction to make.

So…. why is this all important? Well, one of the problems with the Eldred ruling is that no one knows what within Congressional changes to copyright law actually does "alter the contours," and too many lawyers seem to believe that the Eldred ruling means that whatever Congress wants to do to copyright laws is okay. Having a precedent that shows that, no, some of these changes really do alter the contours and that, yes, this is a First Amendment violation, can hopefully create at least some sort of standard by which the courts actually look at copyright law changes to see if they violate the First Amendment, rather than just saying "if Congress did it, it’s okay."

This has the potential to be a very important case, and I’m definitely going to be paying close attention.


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