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Is the Copyright Public Domain Irrevocable? An Introduction to Golan v. Holder

Posted by on Monday, October 3, 2011 in En Banc, Golan v. Holder, Roundtables.

Traditionally, the copyright public domain has been considered irrevocable. When a work enters the public domain, even if it failed to obtain any copyright protection in the first place, it remains in the public domain. However, Congress breached this traditional limitation when it enacted section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act in 1994. Section 514 “restored” copyright protection in the United States for all works of foreign origin that were not yet in the public domain in their source countries, but that were in the public domain in the United States for various specified reasons. By removing an entire body of works from the public domain, Congress challenged the idea that the Patent and Copyright Clause implicitly limits Congress’s power to grant patents and copyrights over material that previously was in the public domain and could be freely used by anyone.