Supreme Court and copyright

The U.S. Supreme Court failed to stand up to corporate powers such as Disney and AOL Time Warner, finding the latest copyright extension act of 20 years to be constitutional in the case Eldred v. Ashcroft. The current time frame of protection afforded by the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act covers the lifespan of the creator and an additional 70 years after his or her death.

In the majority opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court defines the 1998 extension as still limited and not perpetual, seeming to imply that any numeric value manufactured by Congress falls within acceptable limits.

The potential ramifications of this ruling are frightening. The U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall have power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” An industry has been created that does not foster development, invention and innovation.

Many companies are enjoying the multimillion dollar business of licensing and distributing works that should be freely available to the public. The classic tune “Happy Birthday” – owned by a division of AOL Time Warner – and early animation shorts of Mickey Mouse – owned by The Walt Disney Company – will continue to generate cash even though their creators have long since died.

In the case of plaintiff Eric Eldred, who runs a nonprofit Web site delivering free literary works, the ruling will stifle the number of materials available. Currently, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” and more than 100 of Anton Chekhov’s stories can be found free of charge on Eldred’s Web site.

University students are painfully aware of the high cost of books. It is time to build a center of knowledge in the public domain for all to use free of charge. There literally should be no price placed upon education. I find it hard to believe that the intentions of the founding fathers or even the exact language of the U.S. Constitution condone the Supreme Court’s decision. Hopefully, members of Congress will respond to public input and refuse to extend copyright protection any further, even under the influences of corporate lobbying.

Drew Geraets, sophomore, journalism