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"The Constitution gives Congress wide leeway to prescribe ‘limited terms’ for copyright protection and allows Congress to secure the same level and duration of protection for all copyright holders."
——Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
COPYRIGHT RULES SUPREME
IN COURT DECISION
Mickey Mouse, Wizard of Oz Protected by the New Ruling, Which Upholds Lengthier Terms
If you want to use Mickey Mouse’s likeness, you’re gonna have to pay.

Media companies like Disney, along with record labels, recording artists, songwriters, music publishers, movie studios and other content providers, got a huge boost from the U.S. Supreme Court today when Justices upheld the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

The bill, passed by Congress in 1998, set lengthier copyrights to protect the profits of songs, books and cartoon characters, extending the protection from 50 to 70 years after the creator’s death.  At that time, hundreds of thousands of books, movies and songs were close to being released into the public domain. Works owned by corporations are now protected for 95 years. Congress has repeatedly lengthened the terms of copyrights over the years. In 1790, copyright protection lasted only 14 years.

The 7-2 ruling, with Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissenting, was a blow to Internet publishers who wanted to make old books available online and use the likeness of cartoon characters without paying royalties.

The Justices deemed Bono’s Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) “not unconstitutional”. In her ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented: “The Constitution gives Congress wide leeway to prescribe ‘limited terms’ for copyright protection and allows Congress to secure the same level and duration of protection for all copyright holders."

The ruling will save media giants like Disney and AOLTW hundreds of millions of dollars on the copyrights for such movies as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, as well as the version of Mickey Mouse portrayed in 1928’s Steamboat Willie.

RIAA’s Cary Sherman called the Court’s decision challenging the law, on Eldred vs. Ashcroft, as “a decisive and important victory for creators and consumers. The Supreme Court has affirmed the importance of the copyright system and the authority of Congress to adapt it in response to evolving markets and international developments. The Court also recognized, once again, that copyright and the First Amendment are completely compatible, noting that our copyright system contains ‘built-in speech safeguards.’”

Said NMPA head Edward P. Murphy. "Congress had the foresight in enacting the CTEA to extend that principle into the 21st Century, assuring that the United States would continue its leadership role in the creation and dissemination of musical works. Now, in upholding that law, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that copyright is ‘the engine of free expression,’ supplying the economic incentive to ‘create and disseminate ideas.’”

Added Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, Michigan Congressman John Conyers, Jr: “I am not surprised that the Court upheld the prerogative of Congress to promote and protect authorship. Copyright protection is the main incentive that content owners have to create and distribute their creations; if Congress does not act pursuant to its constitutional responsibilities to update that protection as technology advances, we will take away that incentive and lose what is this country’s number one export. This decision demonstrates this country’s commitment to encouraging authorship and free expression. Now kindly remit 25 cents a word for the right to use this quote in your story.”

Digitalconsumer.org was less pleased by the ruling, describing it as “another in a series of blows to consumer rights to copyrighted works… This ruling underscores the importance of protecting consumer fair-use rights. With the court's decision to affirm the monopoly privileges of content holders, the only remaining counterbalance is a set of consumer fair-use rights. Unfortunately, those rights have been under siege in Congress and in the marketplace. This ruling today reinforces the need for Congress to bolster the fair-use rights of citizens.”

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens wrote that the Court was “failing to protect the public interest in free access to the products of inventive and artistic genius” and refused to pay Disney for the right to use the term “Goofy” when referring to colleague Clarence Thomas.

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