An interesting and important copyright case will soon come before the U.S. Supreme Court. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Esquire, the case will hold implications for artistic works created during the early to mid-1900s. The issue at hand concerns whether these copyrighted works should be part of the public domain or not. Right now, the works are considered under copyright, but the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case in which the plaintiff’s argue that the works should be released to the public domain.
The works used to be part of the public domain but were brought back under copyright when the U.S. joined the 1887 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in 1988. In 1994, the U.S. also led a new international treaty effort for artistic copyright protections that established an international dispute resolution mechanism with the World Trade Organization.
These treaties put works that used to be in the public domain back under copyright protection. A lawsuit was filed to challenge this action by a group of educators, publishers, performers, motion picture distributors and film archivists in 2001. The group argues that the treaties keep the works of art in the control of private owners and do nothing to encourage the continued creation of art and collaboration between artists across time and genre.
According to THR, Esq., the plaintiff’s argue that Congress was wrong to sign the international treaty because it is bound by the constitution to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” If the works of art are under private owners rather than in the public domain, they cannot be freely distributed or used to create derivative art by later artists.
If the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the works cannot be held under copyright, it could lead to sanctions within the international community and by fellow signers of the copyright treaties.