One way public domain

/ 6 April 2009

On Friday a federal court agreed with the Fair Use Project at Stanford and ruled in Golan v. Holder that falling into the public domain is a one way trip. Once something is in the public domain, no one, including congress, can stuff it back into the copyright box. Why is this a big deal? Because in 1994 congress did just that when it signed the US onto the worldwide Uruguay Round Agreements Act. This act required the the US honor foreign copyrights (the Berne Convention), which until then had not been the case. A whole host of items that had been in the public domain in the US (but not abroad) were suddenly protected in the US as well.

I’m sure this will be appealed. And it is hardly the most appealing win; since it relies on the differences between US and foreign law it really does nothing to crack protections for some very old US content. Still, it is a victory for Larry Lessig and the team at Stanford. Bravo!

While at browsing copyright matters and national boundaries, check out whether the President violated copyright law when giving the Queen of England an iPod. The Queen can’t get in trouble, she has sovereign immunity.

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