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Copyright law should expire

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a 1998 law that extended the life of existing copyrights by 20 years. The court should give serious thought to the practicality of the law, but not strike it down, because Congress has the constitutional right to pass copyright law. The law compensates creators for the time they spent creating their work, but should not be taken to extremes.

Congress should not pass additional laws extending copyrights. The 1998 law granted copyright protection to any work created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, from the moment of its creation for the length of author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death. Corporations with copyright are protected for 95 years. The copyright can be transferred by contract, such as a will, to beneficiaries, which protects creators’ heirs. Those who oppose the case claim by extending copyright protection for so long, Congress basically is giving copyright protection without limit. But supporters say creative works are solely the property of the creators and should never fall to the public domain.

Copyrights are protections provided by U.S. laws to authors of original works, including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works. The laws were meant to protect creative genius and reward authors for their work, but the public has a right to many things protected under the new copyright law.

The 1998 law removed many classical music composers from the public domain and forced orchestras to pay performance and rental fees for musical parts. Now, many community orchestras cannot play arrangements for another 30 years.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to “promote the progress of science and useful arts” by giving authors exclusive rights “for limited times.” Protecting recent works so that authors do not get cheated out of their efforts is noble, but protecting works created hundreds of years ago is not.