UPDATE: The government's brief and our reply are now posted below. Oral argument is scheduled for October 5. Today we filed our opening brief in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Congress's power to remove works from the public domain. For 200 years, the Copyright Act placed a huge array of works into the public domain through a combination of term limits and eligibility requirements. It created a vast reservoir of knowledge, learning and artistic creativity that millions of us use every day. Since creating the public domain in 1790, Congress amended the Copyright Act again and again to cover new types of works and lengthen copyright terms. But each time it did so, it left the public domain completely intact. It respected the fact that the public domain is public property, and cannot not be taken away. That changed in 1994, when Congress passed a law that removed a vast body of foreign works from the public domain. This body of works included symphonies by Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinksy and Dmitri Shostakovich; books by C.S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells; films by Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock and Jean Renoir; and artwork by M.C. Escher and Pablo Picasso. The Register of Copyrights estimated the works affected by this law "probably number in the millions." Congress took the rights in these works from the American public and handed them over to foreign authors and their heirs in the express hope that foreign countries would reciprocate by giving U.S. copyright owners new rights in works that were in the public domains of those foreign countries. In other words, Congress decided to give away the public's property -- and the important speech and expression rights that go with it -- in the hope this might put more money in the pocket of U.S. copyright owners. In the brief we filed today, we explain why the Constitution does not allow Congress to privatize the public domain and why doing so here violated the First Amendment rights of our clients and the American public. We expect the Court to hear the case this fall, with a decision to follow several months later.
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