Congress passed the Sonny
Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998 (CTEA), which extended the copyright of all works by
This had the practical
effect of stopping everything from entering the public domain for the
next 20 years.
Eldred, who maintained a
library of works in the public domain sued.
Eldred argued that CTEA was unconstitutional because the Intellectual
Property Clause (Art. 1, §8, cl. 8) only empowers Congress to extend copyrights
for "limited times."
In addition, Eldred argued
that the CTEA was a violation of
the 1st Amendment because
it is a regulation of speech, and that it violated public trust by
transferring public property into private hands with no rational basis.
The Trial Court found CTEA constitutional. Eldred appealed.
The Trial Court found that
the new copyright durations were still a 'limited' time, they were just a
longer limited time.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the Copyright Act had been amended (and durations extended) a number
of times in the past, so Congress had set a precedent that they could
extend the duration.
In a dissent it was argued
that it is highly unlikely any artist will be more inclined to produce
work knowing their great-grandchildren will receive royalties, so CTEA did not achieve the goal of copyright law
(encouraging creation of new works).
In addition, the dissent
felt that the retroactive copyright extension was pointless because those
works have already been produced.
"How will extension
help todayŐs Noah Webster create new works 50 years after his
After this decision, a number
of private copyright agreements (like Creative Commons) started to appear
by people concerned with the extent of the copyright system.