Eldred v Ashcroft
537 U.S. 186 (2003)
The Supreme Court agreed that the length of the copyright term could be extended
by Congress after the original act of creation and beginning of the copyright term, as
long as the extension itself was limited instead of perpetual.
Eldred v. Ashcroft, was a case before the Supreme Court of the United States,
challenging the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, CTEA,
provided for the extension of existing copyright terms by an additional 20 years from the
terms set by the Copyright Act of 1976. The court held the CTEA constitutional by a 7-2
The U.S. government supported the law, represented by the Attorney General in an
ex officio capacity, first by Janet Reno, later by John Ashcroft.
The main petitioner, Eric Eldred, a noncommercial Internet publisher of public domain
texts and derivative works is joined by a group of commercial and non-commercial interests
who rely on the public domain for their work includingDover Publications, a commercial
publisher of paperback books; Luck's Music Library, Inc., and Edwin F. Kalmus & Co.,
Inc., publishers of orchestral sheet music; and a large number of amici including the Free
Software Foundation, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the College Art
The law affected both new and existing works. The law also made it both a
prospective extension as well as a retroactive one.
For works published before January 1, 1978 and still in copyright on October 27, 1998, the
term was extended to 95 years.
For works authored by individuals on or after January 1, 1978 (including new works), the
copyright term was extended to equal the life of the author plus 70 years.
For works authored by joint authors, the copyright term was extended to the life of the
last surviving author plus 70 years.
In the case of works-for-hire, anonymous or pseudonymous works, the term was set at 95
years from the date of first publication, or 120 years from creation.
The purpose of CTEA was to prevent a number of works, beginning with those published in
1923, from entering the public domain in 1998 and subsequent years, as would have occurred
under the previous law.
As a result, books, films and other materials which the plaintiffs had been prepared to
republish or restore were now unavailable due to copyright restrictions.