Via the Stanford Law Center for Internet and Society, comes word of Kahle v. Ashcroft. The FAQ provides a concise set of answers regarding the case and it’s purpose:
What’s this case about?
> It is about freeing our culture from unnecessary and harmful regulation. It is about a series of recent changes to copyright law that have failed to benefit copyright owners, but have instead created serious burdens on those who create culture in the digital environment.
> Plaintiffs in this case %u2014 the Internet Archive and its Chairman, Brewster Kahle, and the Prelinger Film Archive (formally, Prelinger Associates, Inc.) and its President, Richard Prelinger %u2014 are filing suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the current system of unconditional copyright is unconstitutional.
Can you give some examples of the harm you’re talking about?
> Just take a look at the experience of one of the plaintiffs in this case. The Internet Archive, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, the National Science Foundation, and the governments of India and China, have been working on the “Million Book Project,” which, when complete, will offer free access to a fully-readable online library of one million digitized books. This is an innovative project that will use the low-cost distribution mechanism the Internet provides to increase public access to important works.
> The Million Book Project isn’t focused on commercially successful books — those are available at bookstores. The project will include a number of books in the public domain — those that are free of copyright protection and thus usable without the need to obtain permission. But many books fall into a nether region. These are works that are not commercially viable and therefore not widely available to the public, but are nevertheless subject to continuing copyright protection. The Internet Archive wants to include many of these books, which we refer to as “orphan works,” in the Million Book Project, but current law makes that very difficult.
If unconditional copyright is so bad, why did Congress pick it?
> It is important to note that the shift from conditional to unconditional copyright happened relatively recently — the process began with the Copyright Act of 1976, which eliminated the registration and notice requirements, and cut back on the renewal requirement, and culminated in the 1992 Berne Convention Implementation Act, which removed what was left of the renewal requirement. These changes happened because the U.S. wanted to adhere to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The Berne Convention is the most significant international treaty governing copyright, and it includes a provision prohibiting member states from imposing copyright formalities on the works of authors from other member states.
If you win, how could copyright law change?
> There are many ways Congress could change the copyright law back to a conditional system and still remain in compliance with the Berne Convention. One way would be to re-impose formalities for all works of U.S. authors — these are most works published in the U.S., and Berne doesn’t prohibit signatory nations from imposing formalities on their own authors. Another would be to pass the Public Domain Enhancement Act, which would impose a tiny renewal fee designed to move unused copyrighted work into the public domain. The PDEA also wouldn’t violate Berne, because it would apply only to works of U.S. authors.