Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case about whether Congress has the power to “restore” copyright protection to works that already exist in the public domain. To be clear, for more than 200 years the law has been settled – once a work was in the public domain, there it remained, and downstream users could feel free to use, store, or share it any way they saw fit. Now Congress, in enacting Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, is changing the game by granting copyright protection to works by foreign authors that, for a variety of reasons, were no longer protected by copyright (for example, if an author had failed to renew her copyright). This means that many works already in the public domain – Peter the Wolf, literature by Maxim Gorky, pieces by Picasso, and music by Stravinski, for example – that have been used and performed countless times would now be subject to copyright protection. Those who have used the works could now be required to pay hefty license fees, and – even worse – if they can’t afford those fees, cease use of the works.
Also, the EFF has filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of the Internet Archive (pdf).