The Public Domain – Is It Going To The Birds?


On January 18, 2012, the Supreme Court confirmed 6-2 that certain works that had entered the public domain could have their copyright restored. Golan v. Holder, Case No. 10-545. The works affected are estimated to number in the millions and could include films by Alfred Hitchcock, such as The Birds; books by Virginia Woolf, such as Mrs. Dalloway; symphonies by Prokofiev, such as Peter and the Wolf; and paintings by Picasso, such as Guernica.

The decision will not only affect the copyright owners, but also anyone who relies on public domain works, particularly those creating derivative works, reprint publishers, musicians, orchestra conductors, teachers and film archivists.

The case considered the constitutionality of a portion of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 104A, that was enacted in 1994 by Congress in order to comply with the international accord, the Berne Convention. Section 104A allows for certain works that had previously entered the public domain to have their copyright reinstated. The types of works are non-U.S. works that were protected in their country of origin, but were not protected in the U.S. for the following three reasons...

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Published In: Administrative Agency Updates, Art, Entertainment & Sports Updates, Constitutional Law Updates, Intellectual Property Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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