Case could affect the status of many famous works, including symphonies by Shostakovich and Stravinsky, books by Virginia Woolf, artwork by Picasso, films by Fellini and Hitchcock
STANFORD, Calif., March 7, 2011—The Supreme Court of the United States today granted the petition for a writ of certiorari filed by lawyers from Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project (FUP) and Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell LLP and will review the constitutionality of a federal statute that has removed thousands of foreign works from the Public Domain and placed them under copyright protection. The case presents a two-pronged constitutional challenge to the 1994 law passed by Congress—an amendment to the Copyright Act, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA): the case will test whether Congress has the authority to remove works from the Public Domain under the “Progress Clause” and whether the 1994 law violates the First Amendment rights of those who performed, adapted, restored and distributed works which had previously been in the Public Domain—works that include symphonies by Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, 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, including Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.
“I’m thrilled the Supreme Court took the case,” said FUP Executive Director Anthony Falzone, who is counsel of record for the petitioners. “This statute throws into question one of the most basic premises of intellectual property: once a work of authorship is placed in the Public Domain, it belongs to the public, and remains the property of the public—free for anyone to use for any purpose. That principle was respected for more than 200 years, because it represents a critical limit on the intellectual property ‘monopoly’ the Framers authorized. What Congress did here represents a huge departure from those basic principles with substantial constitutional ramifications.”
The case is: Golan, et al., v. Holder (Attorney General), et al. (10-545).