Editorial Desk | January 16, 2003, Thursday
The Supreme Court Docket; The Coming of Copyright Perpetuity

(NYT) 337 words
Late Edition - Final , Section A , Page 28 , Column 1

ABSTRACT - Editorial says Supreme Court decision validating 1998 law extending duration of copyright protection may signal beginning of end of public domain and birth of copyright perpetuity; says public domain has been grand experiment bearing fruitful creative ferment, and should not be allowed to die In 1998 Congress was the scene of a battle over public domain, the public right of common, free and unrestricted use of artistic works whose copyright has expired. Corporations like Disney, organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America, and dead artists' families wanted to extend copyright. Advocates of public domain wanted to leave copyright protection as it was, which would have allowed many early 20th-century works, including corporate creations like Mickey Mouse, to slip into the public domain. The copyright owners won, and yesterday they won again when the Supreme Court, by a vote of 7 to 2, decided that Congress was within its constitutional rights when it extended copyright. The court's decision may make constitutional sense, but it does not serve the public well.

Under that 1998 act, copyright now extends for the life of an artist plus 70 years. Copyrights owned by corporations run for 95 years. Since the Constitution grants Congress the right to authorize copyright for ''limited times,'' even the opponents of an extended term were not hopeful that the Supreme Court would rule otherwise. This decision almost certainly prepares the way for more bad copyright extension laws in the future. Congress has lengthened copyright 11 times in the past 40 years.