Tenth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Challenge to U.S. Copyright Law
By Abby Lauer – Edited by Gary Pong
Golan v. Holder, Nos. 09-1234 & 09-1261 (10th Cir., June 21, 2010)
Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), codified in 17 U.S.C. § 104A, restored the U.S. copyrights of foreign authors who had lost copyright protection for failing to comply with certain formalities required by U.S. law. Plaintiffs challenged Section 514 as a violation of the First Amendment. The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado upheld plaintiff’s First Amendment challenge by granting their motion for summary judgment. Because the works of these foreign authors had become part of the public domain, the district court reasoned that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting public use of the works by reinstating copyright protection.
Reversing the lower court, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the URAA does not violate the right to freedom of expression that is protected by the First Amendment. In so holding, the court reasoned that Section 514 of the URAA was narrowly tailored to advance the government’s interest in protecting American copyright holders’ interests abroad. The court deferred to Congress because the legislative body is better equipped to amass data and make important decisions about U.S. copyright law. In addition, the court recognized that the foreign policy implications of the URAA warranted special deference.