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SAA and Others Question Constitutionality of Copyright Term Extension


In 1998 Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act increasing the duration of copyright from life of the author plus fifty years to life of the author plus seventy years.  The effect was to stop for twenty years the addition of any published work to the public domain.  As Roy Rosenzweig noted in a recent article in the Journal of American History, "[f]or historians, copyright protection has redlined . . . much twentieth-century history. . . ."  In response, a group of publishers and preservationists filed suit challenging the constitutionality of copyright term extension.  The suit, Eldred v. Ashcroft, argues that "perpetual copyright on the installment plan" is in direct violation of the constitutional stipulation that the monopoly rights granted by copyright be for a limited term.  The suit has lost in the Federal Appeals court, and recently the plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court to rule on the issue.

A coalition of information organizations, including the Society of American Archivists, the Association of Research Libraries, the American Library Association, the Digital Futures Coalition, and others have filed an amicus brief with the Court asking that they hear the case.  The brief notes the irreparable harm done to historians and institutions that exploit the public domain when copyright term is excessive.  A copy of the amicus brief can be found at; more information on the suit is available at

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