In Eldred v. Reno the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extends the copyright term for present and future works for twenty years, was a constitutional exercise of Congress's copyright power. The CTEA thus puts an end (at least for two decades) to a policy in effect for more than two centuries, since the Copyright Act of 1790, that the copyright of a work expires at the end of a stated term defined at the time the copyright was granted. Since works were copyrighted annually, the policy meant that each year a certain number of copyrighted works entered the public domain, as the copyright terms ended seriatim. The mandate of the CTEA is that no copyrighted work in the United States will go into the public domain before year 2018. The Eldred case thus constitutes judicial approval of the legislative moratorium of the constitutional mandate that copyright protect the public domain, a policy in partial fulfillment of the fact that copyright, as the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly stated, is primarily to benefit the public, only secondarily to benefit the author (as copyright holder). Arguably, the CTEA serves the interest of no one except that of publishers (and other copyright holders) and their heirs.
L. Ray Patterson,
Eldred v. Reno: An Example of the Law of Unintended Consequences
Available at: http://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/fac_artchop/354