Maintained by:
Dennis S. Karjala
Professor of Law
Arizona State University
Help Protect Your Rights to the Great Works in the Public Domain!
On October 7, 1998, both the House and the Senate passed S. 505, the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act" (CTEA), extending the already-too-long term of copyright protection by another 20 years. The legislation purports to cover even works already in existence -- a windfall gift to special interests of what rightfully belongs to the public. President Bill Clinton, a self-proclaimed supporter of the little guy, signed the bill on October 27, 1998. Like the Congress,  former President Clinton sold out the interests of the American people to a few owners of valuable copyrights from the 1920's and 1930's.   On January 15, 2003, the United States Supreme Court essentially disavowed its institutional obligation to interpret the Constitution to maintain the system of checks and balances set up by the Founding Fathers.  This web site shows how and why the congressional action and the Supreme Court's affirmance of it are tragic mistakes. 

This site also contains materials on the law and policy of longer copyright terms generally in the hope that, when this issue arises again (as it will, now that the Supreme Court has given Congress a carte blanche with respect to copyright, around the year 2015 or so), those seeking to defend the public interest will have some ammunition.

Everyone should be grateful to the efforts of Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig, who was the lynchpin in the constitutional challenge, supplying immeasurable amounts of his time, money, and extraordinary talent to the cause.  Although the effort was ultimately unsuccessful, he succeeded in bringing the issue before the public, which I was wholly unable to do when the bill was being considered by Congress.   If we are vigilant, we MAY able to stop the rent-seeking special interests the next time they seek to line their own pockets at the expense of our cultural development.  Please visit Professor Lessig's web site for information and ideas about new approaches to promote the public domain in the light of this disastrous abdication of constitutional duty by the Supreme Court.

. About Copyright Term Extension
What Are the Issues and What Happened?


. Challenge to Constitutionality
       Contains links to judicial materials and briefs filed in connection with the unsuccessful constitutional challenge to the CTEA.      
. Media Coverage
     Articles and Editorials from the Popular Media concerning the CTEA and the legal challenge to its constitutionality 
. Commentary 
     Academic Articles, Comments and Opinions on Term Extension and the CTEA 
. Value of the Public Domain 
     Materials Focusing on the Importance of the Public Domain  (includes new additions to the Subverted Public Domain page added September 10, 2002, and some discussion of the copyright status of Charlie Chaplin's classic The Gold Rush added September 5, 2002).  Also looks at How to Determine Whether a Work Is in the Public Domain  A commercial site call the Durationator can give information as to the copyright status of most works and for many countries.
. International Developments
       Developments in countries that have not yet extended to life + 70

. Letters to Congress
Sample Letters Urging Congress Not to Adopt Term Extension

. Congressional Names and Addresses

   Contact Your Congressman!  (Now obsolete.  I will try to update these addresses when new term extension legislation is presented.)


. Statutes and Treaties
Texts of the Relevant Legal Provisions of the Copyright Act and Berne Convention

Do you think the Sonny Bono Act harmonized US copyright terms with those in the European Union? Take a look that this Harmonization Chart, prepared May 15, 2002

The Stanford University Libraries site is a good one for constitutional, legislative, and administrative materials related to copyright, including the important fair use cases.  (Thanks to Jill at Melody Lane for telling me about this.)


. Legislative Materials
What Was Congress Hearing and Thinking? Introductory statements by sponsors, my opposition statements (and others), the bills themselves at various stages, and committee reports.
. Website Links
Other Websites Promoting the Public Domain. 
For more on the issue, visit Copyright's Commons.


 Many thanks to Jill at Melody Lane for redesigning the look of this page!

 Read this page in Slovenian (thanks to Victor Zdrawlica, Czech (Evelína Koprziwová) , Estonian (Patrii Patricia Motosan), Macedonian (Katerina Nestiv), or Ukrainian (Valerie Bastiaan) translation. It is also available in Indonesian,courtesy of

New Developments and New Items at this Site


   Supreme Court Lands Final Blow Against the Public Domain!  In Golan v. Holder (Jan. 18, 2012), the Court upheld the power of Congress to withdraw works from the U.S. public domain, at least where that action appears required by international treaty (Berne Convention) and the statute is narrowly tailored to achieve the goal of compliance.  Professor Christopher Sprigman has written a short and critical commentary on the case.

    What do we do now if Congress adopts a term of, say, life + 1000 years, or seeks to award a new copyright in Huckleberry Finn to Disney or to the Mark Twain estate?  The only argument is to address the congressional action on the merits, convince the Court that something more than "rational basis" review is required when the Constitution (i.e., "limited times") is being interpreted, and require Congress to present a plausible or at least colorable argument that the action will indeed "promote the progress of science."  See Judicial Oversight of Copyright Legislation, cited below.

   Register of Copyrights Maria Pallente suggests going back to a life + 50 year term, with an opt-in for an additional 20 years.  Joe Mullin, Head of US Copyright Office wants to shorten terms, just barely, Ars Technica, March 19, 2013.








Recent Commentary

    Joseph D. Mirarchi, Note, The Big Effect of Two Little Words: Why a "Limited Times" Challenge Will Stop the Next Copyright Term Extension, 43 Rutgers L.J. 131 (2012)(arguing that the next term extension should be challenged on the ground that the "limited time" term can be granted only to "authors" and that another extension would effectively be a new grant to the heirs of authors, exceeding congressional power under the intellectual property clause.

     See also Judicial Oversight of Copyright Legislation, 35 U. N. Ky. L. Rev. 253 (2008): Dennis Karjala seeks to refute arguments, based on the need to leave complicated legislative copyright tradeoffs to Congress, that the Supreme Court got to the right result in Eldred.  While the argument is correct in general, it is incorrect in the specific cases of copyright term extension, because of the constitutional requirement that copyright be afforded for a "limited time."

Last Update
November 22