The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act

Below are excerpts of the reasons Congress extended the term of copyright under this Act and how they were consistent with prior copyright extensions:

“In 1998, Congress amended the 1976 Act by enacting the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (“CTEA”), named after the deceased Congressman and well-known songwriter Sonny Bono, who was one of the original sponsors of the legislation. . . . Described as ‘bipartisan, noncontroversial legislation’ by Representative Howard Coble, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, the CTEA was passed by voice votes in both the Senate and the House.

“The CTEA extended federal copyright terms by 20 years. In particular, the CTEA extended the term of copyrights in works created on or after January 1, 1978 to the life of the author plus 70 years. The term of copyrights in works created prior to January 1, 1978 (which predated the change in the 1976 Act to a term based on the life of the author) was also increased by 20 years.

“The legislative history of the CTEA makes clear that Congress recognized a number of public policy reasons for enacting it. Senator Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the original sponsors of the CTEA, noted that these reasons paralleled those that led Congress to adopt the life-plus-50-year copyright term in 1976. These reasons included the following:

“1. Harmonization With the European Union and Strengthening the United States Balance of Payments. The European Union had recently adopted a directive requiring its member states to establish a new copyright term of the life of the author plus 70 years. United States copyright owners of works used in Europe could benefit from the European term extension only if the term of United States copyrights was similarly adjusted. Otherwise, under the so-called ‘rule of the shorter term,’ United States copyrights would not be protected in Europe past the expiration of the shorter United States term.

“Harmonization of the copyright terms of the United States and the European Union was thus an important purpose of the CTEA. The United States Copyright Office supported the CTEA for two basic reasons: ‘First, in the global information society, there is a need to harmonize copyright terms throughout the world. Moreover, we believe that the life-plus-70 term will become the international norm. Second, as a leader of creating copyrighted works, the United States should not wait until it is forced to increase its term; rather, it should set an example for other countries.’ Congress agreed that ‘the United States should assert its position as a world leader in the protection of intellectual property by adopting what is increasingly becoming viewed as the future standard of international copyright protection.’

“Congress found copyright term extension essential to strengthen the United States balance of payments. As Senator Patrick Leahy, Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained: ‘from the years 1977 through 1996, the U.S. copyright industries’ share of the gross national product grew more than twice as fast as the remainder of the economy. During those same 20 years, job growth in core copyright industries was nearly three times the employment growth of the economy as a whole. These statistics underscore why it is so important that we finally pass this legislation today.’

“2. Encouraging Investment in Existing Copyrighted Works. Congress also determined that the CTEA is essential to encourage additional investment in existing copyrighted works (such as, for example, through conversion of such works into a digital format). Congress found that such investments will not be made unless a period of exclusivity exists during which owners of copyrights can recoup the costs of such additional investments.

“3. Fair Provision for Authors’ Descendants. Another reason for term extension was the desire of Congress to adopt a copyright term that would make adequate provision for the children and grandchildren of authors. As Senator Hatch stated, ‘the vast majority of authors expect their copyrights to be a potentially valuable resource to be passed on to their children and through them to the succeeding generation.’ Congress found that longer life spans and other demographic changes had made the life-plus-50-year copyright term of the Berne Convention increasingly inadequate.

“4. Encouragement for the Creation of New Works. Congress intended the CTEA to provide ‘an incentive for U.S. authors to continue using their creativity to produce works . . . .’ Numerous creators testified before Congress that the expectation of adequate copyright protection, not only now but in the future, and not only for oneself but also for one’s children and grandchildren, is an important incentive for creators. For example, noted songwriter Alan Menken testified: ‘While it is impossible to ascertain exactly what inspires a person to become a composer rather than a surgeon, or a dentist in my case, it is the reality of life in the 1990’s that one must work in order to support oneself and one’s family. It is also the reality that we must support our children longer than ever, often into adulthood, and the costs of doing so are rising steadily. There comes a point in most people’s lives when one must make a practical decision about the choice of a career. The continuing ability to provide for one’s family both during and after one’s lifetime would certainly be a factor. If it becomes clear that insufficient copyright protection is available to provide that support, there will be less incentive to try to make one’s living as a creator.’ Congress also expected that term extension would spur the production of new works by U.S. copyright industries, which export over $45 billion annually to the rest of the world. The Senate Judiciary Committee found that ‘extended protection for existing works will provide added income with which to subsidize the creation of new works. This is particularly important in the case of corporate copyright owners, such as motion picture studios and publishers, who rely on the income from enduring works to finance the production of marginal works and those involving greater risks (i.e., works by young or emerging authors). In either case, whether the benefit accrues to individual creators or corporate copyright owners, the ultimate beneficiary is the public domain, which will be greatly enriched by the added influx of creative works over the long term.’”

Excerpts from a brief filed in the Eric Elred v. Janet Reno case in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 1999. The brief was filed as Amici Curiae on behalf of the Sherwood Anderson Literary Estate Trust; the Sherwood Anderson Foundation; American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers’ Amsong, Inc.; Association of Publishers, Inc.; Broadcast Music, Inc.; Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.; National Music Publishers’ Association, Inc.; Recording Industry Association of America; and the Songwriters Guild of America (footnotes and legal cites omitted).


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