The case was led by Net pioneer Brewster Kahle, whose most recent Internet Archive project aims to make a huge digital archive of Web sites and other media. The court's ruling, issued late last week, marks another setback for a movement of activists and scholars against expanding legal protections for artistic works.
Kahle and his allies contended that Congress' lengthening of copyright-protection terms--even when an author's work didn't request further protection--had radically transformed traditional copyright law. They asked the courts to rule that much of this recent copyright law change was illegal, which potentially could have opened up large amounts of books, movies and music created in the 1960s and 1970s to public domain use.
In a decision made available Wednesday, federal Judge Maxine Chesney concluded that Congress did have substantial flexibility in expanding copyright protections without court interference.
The court relied primarily onthat said Congress had the power to extend the term of copyright. In that decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said the court was "not at liberty to second-guess congressional determinations and policy judgments of this order."
Kahle and another public domain-based archive had sought to distribute so-called orphan works, or books and other works that were still under copyright but no longer in print or available to the public. That was not possible under the recent round of copyright extensions, they said.
Kahle said Wednesday that the decision would be appealed, and that they had always planned to fight the primary battle in the appellate courts. The court had not directly addressed what he said was the primary thrust of the case--a change in laws to automatically renew copyrights, instead of requiring copyright holders to reregister, he said.
"The key component of the district court ruling is that the judge did not consider the main aspect of this case, which is the changing of the contour of copyright law from opt in to opt out," Kahle said. "That has dramatically changed what's under copyright, and even more ominously, changes the nature of what can be put on the Internet."