Warning: this one is depressing if you believe in the public domain. You may recall that last year, a district court made a very important ruling on what appeared to be a minor part of copyright law. The "Golan" case
asked a simple question: once something is officially in the public domain, can Congress pull it out and put it back under copyright? The situation came about because of (yet another) trade agreement that pulled certain foreign works out of the public domain. A district court had initially said that this move did not violate the law, but the appeals court sent it back, saying that the lower court had not analyzed the First Amendment issue, and whether this was a case where the inherent conflict between the First Amendment and copyright law went too far to the side of copyright by violating the "traditional contours of copyright law." Getting a second crack at this, the district court got it right -- and was the first court to point out that massively expanded copyright law can, in fact, violate the First Amendment.
But, of course, it couldn't last.
On Monday, the appeals court reversed the lower court's ruling
and said there's no problem with the First Amendment because copyright law "addresses a substantial or important governmental interest." This is, plainly speaking, ridiculous. The argument effectively says that the government can violate the basic principles of the First Amendment any time it wants, so long as it shows a "substantial or important government interest." But that makes no sense. The whole point of the First Amendment was to protect citizens' interests against
situations where the government's interests went against citizens' interests. It should never make sense to judge a First Amendment claim on whether the government has "substantial or important" interests.........
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