Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search


Stateside With Rosalea - Mickey vs Mouse

Stateside With Rosalea - Mickey vs Mouse

I really do wonder what I used to do to amuse myself before the Internet. Last week, curious about an icon with a large E inside a square, I clicked through to find myself squarely back in the eighteenth century. Article 1 Section 8 of the US Consititution, to be precise, where one of the powers given Congress was: "To promote the progress of science and useful arts by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

Copyrights and patents. Seems like a straightforward enough paragraph, doesn't it, but "limited times" has been the source of some debate through the years. There have been three main US Copyright Acts, the first in 1909, which gave up to 56 years of protection; the second in 1976, which extended and changed the term to life of the author plus 50 years; and in 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of existing and future copyrights by another 20 years.

The big E icon is being carried on many websites because of a case in the US Supreme Court that challenges the 1998 Act. On October 9, 2002, oral argument was heard in Eric Eldred, et al. v. John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General. The petitioners submit that "such a blanket extension of existing terms exceeds Congress's power under the Copyright Clause and it violates the First Amendment." The First Amendment is to do with the right to free speech.

This is the very stuff that Supreme Courts are made of - challenges to state and federal laws about their unconstitutionality. If you're interested in how much time can be spent trying to interpret what a bunch of guys meant a couple of hundred years ago, you can download the 50-page oral argument from The oral argument is only to get the case submitted to the Supreme Court. A ruling is likely in spring 2003.

One of the arguments put forward by the attorney for the petitioners is not that longer copyrights impede progress, but that if Congress can keep changing the length of the copyright protection, then the "limited times" referred to in the Constitution, have effectively become "unlimited times." The Solicitor General's argument on behalf of John Ashcroft is that the Constitution granted power to Congress to exercise its judgment as to what may be benificial.

Another of the main features of the arguments is to do with whether Congress can justifiably make the copyright extension apply to works already in existence. Which is where Mickey Mouse comes in. Walt Disney died in 1966. Under the 1909 law his works would have come out of copyright in 1994. Because the 1976 law was applied retrospectively, that extended the term until 2016 (life plus 50). The 1998 law extended it to 2036, and who knows what law might be passed in the future to extend it yet again.

The big E site is at and a quick link to the US Copyright Act itself is at If you've forgotten what Mickey Mouse looks like take a look at this newly unveiled Alaska Air plane -


© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Ian Powell: Rescuing Simpson From Simpson

(Originally published at The Democracy Project ) Will the health reforms proposed for the Labour Government make the system better or worse? Health commentator Ian Powell (formerly the Executive Director of the Association of Salaried Medical ... More>>

Missions To Mars: Mapping, Probing And Plundering The Red Planet

In the first month of 2020, Forbes was all excitement about fresh opportunities for plunder and conquest. Titled “2020: The Year We Will Conquer Mars”, the contribution by astrophysicist Paul M. Sutter was less interested in the physics than the conquest. ... More>>

Richard S. Ehrlich: Coup Leader Grabs Absolute Power At Dawn

BANGKOK, Thailand -- By seizing power, Myanmar's new coup leader Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has protected his murky financial investments and the military's domination, but some of his incoming international ... More>>

Jennifer S. Hunt: Trump Evades Conviction Again As Republicans Opt For Self-Preservation

By Jennifer S. Hunt Lecturer in Security Studies, Australian National University Twice-impeached former US President Donald Trump has evaded conviction once more. On the fourth day of the impeachment trial, the Senate verdict is in . Voting guilty: ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Let The Investigation Begin: The International Criminal Court, Israel And The Palestinian Territories

International tribunals tend to be praised, in principle, by those they avoid investigating. Once interest shifts to those parties, such bodies become the subject of accusations: bias, politicisation, crude arbitrariness. The United States, whose legal and political ... More>>

The Conversation: How To Cut Emissions From Transport: Ban Fossil Fuel Cars, Electrify Transport And Get People Walking And Cycling

By Robert McLachlan Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University The Climate Change Commission’s draft advice on how to decarbonise New Zealand’s economy is refreshing, particularly as it calls on the government to start phasing out fossil ... More>>

  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog