Reps. Lofgren and Doolittle Announce the Public Domain Enhancement Act to Address the Need for Copyr
Allows Abandoned Works to Enter the Public Domain
Media Contact: Christine Glunz, 202.225.3072
Washington, DC — U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and John Doolittle (R-Rocklin) today introduced the Public Domain Enhancement Act, addressing the need to reform copyright laws identified in the recent Supreme Court decision of Eldred v. Ashcroft.
The Public Domain Enhancement Act offers American copyright owners with continuing interest in works an easy way to maintain their copyrights while allowing abandoned works to enter the public domain. It requires that American copyright owners pay a simple $1 fee to maintain their copyrights 50 years after publication. If the owner fails to pay the $1 fee, the copyright expires and the work enters the public domain. In addition, copyright owners are required to submit a form identifying the copyright holder to facilitate proper licensing of copyrighted works.
“Our Founding Fathers recognized that society has an interest in the free flow of ideas, information and commerce,” said Lofgren. “That is why copyright protection does not last forever. This bill will breathe life into older works whose long-forgotten stories, songs, pictures and movies are no longer published, read, heard or seen. It is time to give these treasures back to the public.”
"Opening access to historical works for restoration and rehabilitation is essential toward ensuring that classics will be appreciated and cherished for future generations to come,” said Doolittle. “I am proud to join my colleague Zoe Lofgren in sponsoring this common-sense legislation and greatly appreciate the broad base of support it has received."
When a copyright ends, the works they protect enter the public domain, where they can be freely copied or used to create derivative works. Commercial and noncommercial creators depend on a healthy public domain as a source of raw material for new productions, such as a movie based on an old book or a theme song based on old musical arrangements. Schools, museums and libraries also use works in the public domain to create pictorial and textual materials for educational and cultural purposes. Archivists depend on the public domain to restore and preserve historical works and book publishers rely on the public domain to print titles and make them available to the public at reduced prices.
In 1998, Congress passed the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), extending the term of copyright laws by 20 years for works copyrighted after the year 1923. In his dissent in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case upholding CTEA, Supreme Court Justice Breyer found that only about 2% of copyrights between 55 and 75 years old retain commercial value. Yet under the CTEA, these works will not enter the public domain for many years. This prevents commercial entities and the public from building upon, cultivating and preserving these works.