Eric Eldred, an internet publisher whose business relies on copyrighted work tha
Eric Eldred, an internet publisher whose business relies on copyrighted work that have gone into the public domain. The Copyright Term Extension Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1998, extended the term of copyrights in America by 20 years. Eldred challenged the Copyright Term Extension Act as violation of the Copyright Clause’s “limited Times” prescription and the First Amendment’s free speech clause in the 2003 case Eldred v. Ashcroft. Ultimately, the Court held that, although the Act extended copyright from 50 to 70 years, the term of copyright was still limited, and no First Amendment right exists to use copyrighted works.
[As an aside: the act was named “The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act” not because Sonny Bono had any great involvement in getting the act passed—he was not one of the sponsors of the act when it was first proposed in Congress and he died more than a month before the bill got out of committee—but because his untimely death caused his apparently sentimental colleagues in Congress to add his name to the bill in his honor.]
What is copyright? Why should one be able to “own” something completely intangible, like an idea? If I take your car, I have it and you don’t. If I “take” your idea, I have it, but it seems that you still have it, too. So, what does it even mean to say that one person “takes” another’s idea? On the other hand, why shouldn’t one be able to profit from his or her creativity? Is creativity a scarce resource? Is there not enough of it to go around? If someone comes up with a story about a boy-wizard who goes to a school called Hogwarts, how does that prevent someone else from coming up with a story about a nerdy teenager who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and acquires great spider powers? If someone comes up with an original idea, why shouldn’t they be able to own it forever, and then pass it on to their descendants, just like one can own land and pass it on to one’s descendants?
These are just a few of the fascinating legal and philosophical questions that involve the area of copyright law. Another involves the complex relationship between copyright law and the First Amendment. All of these issues and more were implicated in the Supreme Court case of Eldred v. Ashcroft.
In this discussion post, you need to address the following three questions: First, what, specifically, was the critical legal issue involved in the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft? This was a case having to do with the Copyright Term Extension Act. But I want you to tell me, in one or two sentences, what was the specific question over which the two sides in this case disagreed. Obviously, I want you to be more specific than simply saying, “The two sides disagreed over whether the Copyright Term Extension Act is constitutional.”
Second, after identifying the critical legal issue involved in this case, I want you to explain which side had the better argument and why. In this part of your post, I want you to focus on the legal arguments in this case. It is, of course, possible to believe that one side or another has the better legal argument in this specific case without believing that the specific law in question in this case is good or bad for the country.
Third, I want you to step back from the legal arguments and tell me what you think of copyright in general. Is it a good idea, or a bad idea? If we have it, how long should it last? Should copyright terms ever expire? Obviously, this part of your post asks for your considered judgment on a broad question. Do not spend all of your time addressing this question, however, because then you will not necessarily have demonstrated to me that you read, and wrestled with, the very interesting case of Eldred v. Ashcroft.
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