Senator Orrin Hatch’s statement
before Congress – March 2, 1995

Congress has protected copyrights since the very first Congress, and the entire history of our copyright laws has been a history of ever increasing protection, both with respect to the nature of works protected, as well as with respect to the duration of protection. Still in over 200 years, the copyright term has only been extended on three prior occasions.

In 1790, the first Congress set the maximum term of copyright protection at 28 years—a 14-year initial period that could be renewed for an additional 14 years. In 1831, we extended that period by 14 years—a 28-year initial period that could be renewed for an additional 14 years. In 1909, the major copyright reform act of that era extended the maximum term of copyright to 56 years—a 28-year initial term that could be renewed for an additional 28 years.

Most recently, the Copyright Act of 1976 fundamentally altered the way in which we measure copyright by protecting works throughout the life of their creator plus an additional 50 years. In so doing, we adopted the prevailing international standard of protection—a standard that was first recommended by the members of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works in the Act of Berlin of November 13, 1908, and that was made mandatory for members of the Berne Union by the Act of Brussels of June 26, 1948.

Even though the United States adopted the life-plus-50-year term of copyright only 19 years ago, and even though that term of protection has a nearly century-old history in the international arena, I do not believe that it should be accepted uncritically as an ideal or even sufficient measurement of the most appropriate duration for copyright term. Instead, we should be aware of many nations that have historically provided longer terms of copyright as well as the recent developments to extend copyright in Europe. Also, we need to examine the real-life experience of creators, their reasonable expectations for exploiting their works, and the concerns and views of the descendants, heirs, and other whom the postmortem protection of copyright was designed to benefit.

Among the European nations, German and Spain have for some time recognized respectively terms of life plus 70 years and life plus 80 years, and Portugal has for much of this century provided a perpetual term of protection. In addition, it is common for bilateral agreements relating to copyright protection among particular nations to provide for terms of protection in excess of the life-plus-50-year standard.

America exports more copyrighted intellectual property than any country in the world, a huge percentage of it to the nations of the European Union. Intellectual property is, in fact, our second largest export: it is an area in which we possess a large trade surplus. At a time when we face trade deficits in many other areas, we cannot afford to abandon 20 years worth of valuable overseas protection now available to our creators and copyright owners. We must adopt a life-plus-70-year term of copyright if we wish to improve our international balance. It just makes plain common sense to ensure fair compensation for the American creators whose efforts fuel this important intellectual property sector of our economy by extending out copyright term to allow American copyright owners to benefit from foreign users. By so doing, we guarantee that our trading partners do not get a free ride for their use of our intellectual property.

Senator Orrin Hatch, March 2, 1995
Introducing the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1995


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