Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Before the act (under the Copyright Act of 1976), copyright lasted for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The act became Public Law 105-298 on October 27, 1998. The Copyright Term Extension Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and 95 years respectively. The act also affected copyright terms for copyrighted works published prior to January 1, 1978, increasing their term of protection by 20 years as well. This effectively 'froze' the advancement date of the public domain in the United States for works covered by the older fixed term copyright rules.
Under this act, no additional works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still copyrighted in 1998 will enter the public domain until 2019, unless the owner of the copyright relases them into the public domain prior to that. Unlike copyright extension legislation in the European Union, the Sonny Bono Act did not revive copyrights that had already expired.
The act did extend the terms of protection set for works that were already copyrighted, and is retroactive in that sense. However, works created before January 1, 1978 but not published or registered for copyright until recently are addressed in a special section (17 U.S.C. § 303) and may remain protected until 2047.
In a victory for corporate control of cultural heritage, the Supreme Court of the United States has rejected a constitutional challenge to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 1998 (U.S.) by a majority of seven to two.
The Dead Poets Society: The Copyright Term and
the Public Domain - Matthew Rimmer, Australian National University - ANU College
of Law - Abstract:
This paper evaluates the litigation in terms of policy debate in a number of discourses - history, intellectual property law, constitutional law and freedom of speech, cultural heritage, economics and competition policy, and international trade. It argues that the extension of the copyright term will inhibit the dissemination of cultural works through the use of new technologies - such as Eric Eldred's Eldritch Press and Project Gutenberg. It concludes that there is a need to resist the attempts of copyright owners to establish the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act 1998 (U.S.) as an international model for other jurisdictions - such as Australia.