District Court Upholds First Amendment Challenge to the URAA
By Caitlyn Ross – Edited by Stephanie Weiner
Golan v. Holder
D. of Colorado, April 3, 2009, No. 01-cv-01854-LTB
Memorandum Opinion (hosted by the Stanford Fair Use Project)
On April 3rd, the United States District Court for the District of Colorado granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, upholding the First Amendment challenge to Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), codified in 17 U.S.C. §104A. The case was on remand from Golan v. Gonzales (10th Cir.), which instructed the District Court to evaluate the First Amendment implications of restoration. Judge Lewis T. Babcock held that §104A, which restored copyright in certain foreign works that had previously fallen into the public domain, cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny.
The URAA restored the US copyrights of foreign authors whose works entered the public domain for any reason other than the expiration of a copyright term in the work’s country of origin. The Tenth Circuit determined that the law “altered the traditional contours of copyright protection” by restoring copyrights in works of foreign origin that were previously in the public domain in the United States and therefore the law was subject to First Amendment scrutiny. The court held that once the works entered the public domain, the plaintiffs acquired a vested interest in the speech. On remand, the District Court – which had previously upheld § 104A – held that this provision of the URAA violates the First Amendment insofar as it suppresses parties’ rights to continue using works they had exploited when those works were in the public domain.
According to Anthony Falzone of the Stanford Fair Use Project, which is litigating the dispute, this is “the first time a court has held any part of the Copyright Act violates the First Amendment.” The Technology & Marketing Law Blog provides an overview of the case. (more…)