Last week, The US Supreme Court mandated copyright restoration for foreign works that are covered by copyright protection in their country of origin or the country where copyright protection is claimed. This renewed respect for foreign works, removes a bulk of works out of the public domain and vests them with copyright protection. This means that many foreign works will no longer be free to perform, record, copy or make derivative works of here in the US. For example, Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ which has been free to use in the US since it has been in the public domain, has had its copyright restored and will require the same permissions and usage fees as Copland and Bernstein…. who are Prokofiev’s contemporaries and who still enjoy copyright protection of their music. (Now an orchestra could be expected to pay approximately $800 per performance of Peter and the Wolf). Evidently, J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings, Alfred Hitchcock’s films and Pablo Picasso’s paintings are also among the foreign works with newly restored copyright protection.
The reasoning behind this copyright restoration is largely based on international foreign policy. As the court points out in its holding… the US has taken a ‘minimalistic approach’ to complying with the Berne Convention for the past two decades… and this copyright restoration of foreign works is a significant step toward US compliance with the treaty. There are 164 counties signed onto the treaty and the one of the many terms of the Berne Convention is that member states offer reciprocal copyright protection. Interestingly, this could be a significant step towards an international copyright system.
If you are already using ‘Peter and the Wolf’ or other restored works, the court’s holding speaks to a grace period for parties who are currently using or exploiting the restored works and encourages negotiations to determine reasonable compensation.
(Tolkien’s heirs come to mind as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie extravaganza could lead to interesting negotiations if an agreement hasn’t already been made.)
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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More information: The US Supreme Court case is Golan v. Holder. The holding is also available at www.supremecourt.gov; The Berne Convention, Article 18 at http://www.wipo.int/treaties/en/ip/berne/; Other articles on the subject: http://www.nytimes.com; http://online.wsj.com; http://www.legalnewsline.com/news/234980-peter-and-the-wolf-must-be-paid; http://orchestralworks.blogspot.com/2008/09/prokofiev-peter-and-wolf.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.