These ensure that the copyright owner can exert some control over the use of his creations and that he is compensated for their use.
The existing law has raised perennial concerns that it did not provide protection for creative works over an adequate period of time. In some cases, creative work fell into the public domain during the authors own lifetime, depriving him of control and income. Copyrights dwelling in the estates of deceased creators were lost within a few decades depriving their beneficiaries of royalties from the work.
Pending legislation makes provision for these situations, and more. In February, Congressman Carlos J. Moorhead of California introduced House Resolution 989, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1995. It was subsequently referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
Essentially the same bill was introduced in the Senate in late March by Orrin Hatch, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
The bill would extend the term of copyright protection by an additional 20 years in every category. An author who publishes an original book, for example, in most cases would be afforded full protection for the entirety of his lifetime, plus 70 years.
The bill takes on additional importance in light of the adoption by the European Union in October 1993 of a directive mandating copyright term protection equal to the life of the author plus 70 years for all works originating in the Union. Because European Union countries consume more American products than any other imports, the European Unions action has serious trade implications for the United States, said Moorhead.
Harvard law professor Arthur Miller added, Unless Congress matches the copyright extension adopted by the European Union, we will lose 20 years of valuable protection against rip-off artists around the world.
Senator Hatch listed many important works that have fallen into the public domain due to expiration of their copyright protection. Notable examples are portions of the works of George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
The inescapable conclusion must be drawn that copyrights in valuable works are too often expiring before they have served their purpose of allowing an author to pass on their benefits, said Hatch.
When one considers that all works of creativity fixed by any method now known or later developed are invested from the moment of their creation with substantial rights that can be protected in any federal court, then I think it becomes clear that the copyright system is something we should encourage and, where appropriate, extend, he said.
Copyright extension would benefit and is supported by creators, publishing groups, motion picture studios, producers, publishers and writers. Opposition to the bill is virtually nonexistent.
Full hearings on the act are scheduled to go forward this summer.