Supreme Court Copyright Case will Affect Millions of Once Public Works

Films by Alfred Hitchcock, paintings by Pablo Picasso and symphonies by great 20th-Century Russian composers are among the works that are no longer available to be freely quoted, copied, played, shared or republished without paying royalties or seeking permission.  Congress said that applying protection to millions of works by foreign artists that were once in the public domain was necessary in order to comply with treaties and foreign trade agreements.  Furthermore, this show of cooperation will mean copyright protection for the work of American artists overseas.

University of Denver music department professor Lawrence Golan, along with the ACLU, Google and the American Library Association, among others, say Congress’s action violates First Amendment rights, complicates efforts to digitize the world’s great libraries and obscures the original intent of the Constitution’s copyright clause: “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”

Golan points out real world implication using the example of “Peter and the Wolf,” a piece often used to introduce kids to classical music with memorable solos in which the oboe plays the duck, the flute plays the bird, and the horns play the wolf.  Golan explains, “orchestras used to be able to buy the Prokofiev symphony for $100, he said, and play it until the sheet music was worn out. Now it must be rented, at a cost of several hundred dollars for each performance.  Community orchestras and others playing for youth concerts won’t do it.”

The case, Golan v. Holder, will be heard by the Supreme Court and decided by eight-member because Justice Elena Kagan is recused. A tie would uphold the 10th Circuit’s decision.