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In a decision handed down on 18 January entitled Golan v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court again turned away a case that might have brought more of Joyce’s major works into the public domain in the U.S. Originally filed by music professor from the University of Denver in 2001, the suit alleged that Congress exceeded its authority when it returned to copyright works (like Joyce’s Ulysses) that had briefly entered the public domain. The focus of this case was primarily on the 1989 Berne Convention rather than the Copyright Term Extension Act.
The 9-2 decision upheld the circuit court ruling and the court as a whole was not convinced by Justice Breyer’s argument that the treaty violated the ostensible purpose of copyright: to encourage innovation and the creation of new work. “By definition,” he writes,” the law “bestows monetary rewards only on owners of old works – works that have already been created and already are in the American public domain. At the same time, the statute inhibits the dissemination of those works, foreign works published abroad after 1923, of which there are many millions.”
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