Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Copyright Restoration Dispute

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The constitutionality of Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), which restores copyrights in foreign works formerly within the United States' public domain, will soon be debated before the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari yesterday morning (Lawrence Golan, et al. v. Eric H. Holder Jr., et al., No. 10-545, U.S. Sup.; See December 2010, Page 21). Lexis.com subscribers can view pleadings, briefs and motions  related to Golan, et al. v. Eric H. Holder. Non-subscribers can purchase relevant briefs, pleadings and motions using lexisOne's Research Value Package.

In seeking review of an adverse ruling by the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (Golan v. Holder, 609 F.3d 1076 (10th Cir. Colo. 2010) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law]), petitioners Lawrence Golan, the estate of Richard Kapp, S.A. Publishing Co. Inc., Symphony of the Canyons, Ron Hall and John McDonough request clarification on whether the progress clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from taking works from the public domain, as well as whether Section 514 violates the First Amendment.

The dispute originated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, where the petitioners - which include orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers and motion picture distributors - first challenged the constitutionality of the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) and Section 514 of the URAA.  As a result of both statutes, the petitioners claimed that they were prevented from using derivative works or were required to pay licensing fees to the copyright holders.

The District Court initially granted summary judgment on behalf of the government with regard to all arguments raised by the petitioners, but the 10th Circuit partially reversed on grounds that the URAA challenge was valid.  On remand, the District Court instead sided with the petitioners, finding that "to the extent Section 514 suppresses the right of reliance parties to use works they exploited while the works were in the public domain," Section 514 was unconstitutional.

In its second ruling in the case, however, the 10th Circuit ruled in favor of the government.  Applying intermediate scrutiny, the appellate panel relied on Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC (520 U.S. 180, 189 [1997]) [enhanced version / unenhanced version] in finding that a content-neutral statute "will be sustained under the First Amendment if it advances important governmental interests unrelated to the suppression of free speech and does not burden substantially more speech than necessary to further those interests." 

Deeming Section 514 "narrowly tailored" and the governmental interests valid, the appellate panel remanded the case with instructions for the District Court to grant summary judgment to the government, which was entered in August.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the March 21 issue of Mealey'sTM Litigation Report:  Copyright.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]

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