Copyright Clause case confirms Congress' control

High court verifies Congress' power to expand or revise copyright protection

The stakes in Golan v. Holder were high. Free speech rights, Congress’ power to grant copyright protection and America’s treaty obligations were all on the line.

Moreover, the case would determine the legal status of millions of works created in the 20th century by foreign authors. Among those works were well-known creations by Pablo Picasso, J.R.R. Tolkien, Igor Stravinsky, Alfred Hitchcock, H.G. Wells, M.C. Escher, Virginia Woolf, Federico Fellini and Sergei Rachmaninoff. These works were protected in the authors’ home countries, but not in the U.S.—
until Congress passed the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) in 1994.

Promoting Progress

The Constitution says little about Congress’ power to enact copyright laws. It states simply that “Congress shall have Power ... [t]o promote the Progress of Science ... by securing for limited Times to Authors ... the exclusive Right to their ... Writings.”

Balanced Rights

Golan held that the traditional contours of copyright consist only of two longstanding doctrines mentioned in Eldred: the fair use doctrine and copyright’s distinction between ideas and expression.


Steven Seidenberg

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