(CN) – The Supreme Court said Monday that it would review a decision that gives foreign artists copyright protection from performers and publishers in the United States who make money from foreign works.
The 10th Circuit’s decision in June 2010 upheld a section of the 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act, a federal law that restored U.S. copyright protection to foreign works of art that were previously in the public domain.
Concluding that the American plaintiffs failed to present a free-speech claim, the Denver-based appeals court reversed the finding of a Colorado federal judge, who said the law ran afoul of the First Amendment.
The United States enacted the law in question after participating in the Uruguay Round General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1994. A provision of the law removes many foreign works from the public domain so that the country could comply with the 1989 Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The convention required each signatory to provide the same copyright protections to authors in other member countries that it provides to its own authors.
A group of “orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers, film archivists and motion picture distributors” challenged the constitutionality of the law. They argued that the foreign works that the act now protects should remain in the public domain.
Any foreign works that the plaintiffs were able to sell, perform and distribute now require the payment of licensing fees to the copyright holders under the 1994 law.
After the 10th Circuit upheld the law as “content-neutral,” the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming that the law restricts their freedom of expression under the First Amendment.
The federal appeals panel had agreed with the government that the law was narrowly tailored to serve important governmental interests. In addition to allowing the country to comply with international treaty, the law also protects U.S. copyright holders from being exploited in other countries.