Eldred v. Ashcroft: Just Another Mickey Mouse Copyright Case?
October 1, 2002David L. Applegate
Currently on the Supreme Court’s docket is the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, which challenges the constitutionality of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 1 (“the CTEA”). In brief, the CTEA extends the duration of existing U.S. copyrights by twenty years, to a maximum length of the author’s life plus seventy years for works created after January 1, 1978; to 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation in the case of anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works made for hire created after 1978; and to a maximum 95 years total for works created before 1978. Plaintiffs in Eldred contend that this Congressional extension of copyright terms, the eleventh in forty years, violates the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution in at least three particulars and the First Amendment in at least two. (In the lower courts, plaintiffs have also contended that the CTEA violates the “public trust” doctrine.) The government maintains, on the other hand, that the copyright extension provisions of the CTEA represent a proper exercise of Congressional power, consistent with the Constitution and applicable legislative and judicial precedent.