The U.S. Supreme Court will convene Oct. 9 to decide whether the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is constitutional, the Associate Press reports.
The Act, which was passed by Congress in 1998, extended copyright protection for cultural works by 20 years. The law, which protects such creations as Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and songs by George and Ira Gershwin, was challenged by Lawrence Lessig — a law professor at Stanford University — on behalf of Eric Eldred, who had posted works of Henry James and Nathaniel Hawthorne on his website.
Supporters of the act argue that the extension is necessary to protect the arts industry, which contributes billions of dollars to the economy of the United States. Those opposed to the act argue that it limits free speech and makes unavailable material that should be in the public domain for all artists to use.
Ironically, Disney — which is a proponent of the copyright extension — has based many of its hit films on material (Snow White, Cinderella, the Hunchback of Notre Dame) that was originally in the public domain.
In 1790 the first federal copyright law was established which set a term of 14 years with a possible extension of 14 years. The copyright laws were overhauled in 1976, and the initial 14 years was extended to the life of the author plus 50 years. Works owned by corporations were granted a 75-year copyright term. The 1998 act extended the original term by 20 years. Several Gershwin compositions, which were about to enter the public domain in 1998, will now be unavailable until 2018. The struggle continues for those who can't afford the high royalties to perform these works — including orchestras and church choirs.
—By Andrew Gans