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U.S. court upholds copyright law on "orphan works"
January 22, 2007 / 8:03 PM / 11 years ago

U.S. court upholds copyright law on "orphan works"

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court has rejected a bid by Internet activists to roll back federal laws that extended copyright protection over orphan works, or books and other media that are no longer in print.

<p>A woman stands among the bookshelves in the main reading room of The New York Public Library, December 14, 2004. A U.S. appeals court has rejected a bid by Internet activists to roll back federal laws that extended copyright protection over orphan works, or books and other media that are no longer in print. REUTERS/Mike Segar</p>

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court decision to dismiss Kahle v. Gonzales, which argued that legal changes made in the 1990s had vastly extended copyright protections at the expense of free speech rights.

Orphaned works are a hot-button issue for the publishing industry, which has resisted efforts by Web companies Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and the Internet Archive -- working with major academic libraries -- to scan orphaned and out-of-copyright works to make them available for free on the Web.

Prior to 1978, the number of orphaned copyright works was limited by requirements that intellectual property holders renew their rights within a certain period of years. Otherwise ownership of these works would pass into the public domain.

Amendments to U.S. copyright law in the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1992 made renewal registration optional, rather than mandatory, in order to preserve copyrights. A 1998 amendment further extended the renewal term to 67 years.

Critics of the changes had mocked the law as an effort to prolong Walt Disney Co.’s copyright hold over Mickey Mouse.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of these changes to copyright law in a 2003 decision, Eldred v. Ashcroft, which the three-judge Ninth Circuit panel cited.

“They (the plaintiffs) make essentially the same argument, in different form, that the Supreme Court rejected in Eldred. It fails here as well,” the eight-page opinion written by Ninth Circuit Judge Jerome Farris stated.

Plaintiffs in the case in 2004 filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government. They included Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive, best known for its periodic time capsule of Web sites, and which also provides free access to digital audio, book and films.

“What is at stake is libraries being able to have out-of-print books on their digital bookshelves as they have out-of-print books on the physical shelves we grew up with,” Kahle wrote in November when arguments were heard in the case.

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