The Supreme Court and Picasso

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Oct 8, 2011    •    544 Views

This Supreme Court case could affect the music you hear at a concert, the book you can access on Google and the Picasso you might see online. The case is all about copyright protection.

The question: If a foreign movie, painting, song, or book is already in the public domain, then can it get copyright protection?

The answer: Hoping to comply with international law, the Congress said foreign work that was unprotected and in the public domain could be copyrighted.

The Response: Groups that depend on the public domain for their work believe that Congress’s decision is unconstitutional. Orchestra conductors, community theater groups, Google, video distributors, indeed a host of groups said the expense of using a copyrighted piece could prevent them from doing their jobs.

The Supreme Court just heard the oral arguments.

Here is a legal analysis of the case.

The Economic Lesson

2 parts of the Constitution directly relate:

  • Article 1 Section 8: “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.”
  • The First Amendment: Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech…

An Economic Question: How might property rights help and hinder innovation?

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