On 18 January 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the authority of U.S. Congress to extend the scope of copyright protectionto foreign works that have already entered the public domain saying that it neither violates the Constitution’s copyright clausenor the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression. (To obtain the judgement, please visit HERE)
The issue raised in Golan v. Holder concerns the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) of 1994 which was signed by the US Congress in order to bring the country’s copyright law in line with and the international copyright laws (including the Berne Convention and the TRIPS agreement). The agreement amend the U. S. copyright law and under Section 514, it granted copyright protection to a set of foreign works that were previously in the American public domain. As a result, a group of petitioners (including orchestra conductors, educators, performers, film archivists, and motion picture distributors), who had formerly enjoyed free availability of certain works, protested against the federal government’s restoration of the copyright protection. Among other things, they claimed that First Amendment interests of a higher order were at stake.
However, the justices said that “neither the Copyright and Patent Clause nor the First Amendment, we hold, makes the public domain, in any and all cases, a territory that works may never exit” and added that it is in U. S. interest to “secure greater protection for U. S. authors abroad, and remedying unequal treatment of foreign authors”.
In Europe, EU laws (Directive 2006/116/EC) provides a longer term of protection for authors and the protected work can only be considered in the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. The term of protection has recently extended to music and other sound recordings.
Further information can be found HERE