Tuesday, April 5, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court to review Golan v. Holder

On March 7, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the writ of certiorari filed for Golan v. Holder 79 U.S.L.W. 3512 (2011). After years of being challenged and reconsidered by the lower courts, the Supreme Court decided to take a look at the case that has been surrounded by controversy.

The case challenges Section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act. Upon being enacted in 1994, this section of the URAA made several changes to U.S. Copyright Laws in which many felt that Congress was overstepping its legislative power.

Under Section 514, foreign works that were previously released into the public domain were placed back under copyright putting those that were utilizing the material in violation of the new law. The plaintiff, Golan, felt that the law infringed on the First Amendment right of Freedom of Expression.

Originally filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado in 2001 under the name Golan v. Gonzales, Chief Justice Babcock ruled that the law was not in violation of the First Amendment as the plaintiffs claimed. In the ruling, Babcock held that Section 514 did not prevent those wanting to use the copyrighted material from doing so because they are able to “contract with the copyright holder to use the work.” Dissatisfied with the ruling, the plaintiffs looked to appeal the case.

In 2007, the case Golan v. Gonzales 501 F.3d 1179 was reconsidered as after being appealed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth District which decides appeals cases for all of Colorado. Judge Robert Henry presided over the case concluding that the case should be remanded to District Court to reconsider its previous decision.

Upon this ruling, the case (Golan v. Holder, 611 F. Supp. 2d 1165) was sent back to the District Court. Chief Justice Babcock took a second look at the case and dismissed his previous ruling. The court held that Section 514 of the URAA did in fact violate the first amendment because it took works previously open in the public domain and removed them. In doing so, the law is broader than necessary; therefore, Congress is overstepping its power.

Golan v. Holder is currently awaiting trial. When deciding constitutionality, the U.S. Supreme Court will put the law to the Intermediate Scrutiny Test. This test first determines whether Congress was within its power when creating the law. In this case, it is within Congress’ powers to enact laws necessary to protect people. The law intends to protect the intellectual property of its creators so Congress is within its powers to enact the law.

The URAA furthers the government’s interest in protecting foreign works that previously lacked copyright protection and intends to protect the free expression of the creator. However, by protecting works that were previously in the public domain, the law is broader than what is necessary to further the government’s interest thus making Section 514 of the URAA unconstitutional.


Golan v. Holder, 611 F. Supp. 2d 1165 (2009)

Golan v. Holder, 609 F. 3d 1076 (2010)

Golan v. Holder 79 U.S.L.W. 3512 (2011)

Golan v. Gonzales 501 F.3d 1179 (2007)

www.lexisnexis.com (search: Golan v. Holder AND Golan v. Gonzales)



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