Eldred v. Ashcroft

537 U.S. 186, 123 S. Ct. 769 (2003)



In addition to spurring the creation and publication of new expression, copyright law contains built-in First Amendment accommodations. First, it distinguishes between ideas and expression and makes only the latter eligible for copyright protection. Specifically, 17 U.S.C.S. § 102(b) provides: In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work. This idea/expression dichotomy strikes a definitional balance between the First Amendment and the Copyright Act by permitting free communication of facts while still protecting an author's expression. Due to this distinction, every idea, theory, and fact in a copyrighted work becomes instantly available for public exploitation at the moment of publication.


Under the CTEA, Congress enlarged the duration of copyrights by 20 years in order to, inter alia, harmonize the baseline United States copyright term with the term adopted by the European Union. Petitioners argued that the CTEA violated the "limited times" prescription of the Copyright Clause. As to the First Amendment, petitioners contended that the CTEA was a content-neutral regulation of speech that failed inspection under the heightened judicial scrutiny appropriate for such regulations.


Are existing copyright terms that are extended for those requirements under the Copyright Clause valid?




The CTEA's extension of existing copyrights did not exceed Congress' power under the Copyright Clause. The Court rejected petitioners' arguments that (1) the extension was a congressional attempt to evade or override the "limited times" constraint, (2) Congress could not extend an existing copyright absent new consideration from the author, and (3) the extensions should have been subject to heightened judicial review. The Court also rejected petitioners' argument that the CTEA violated the First Amendment.

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