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The Copyright Act 2019

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THIS CASEBOOK contains a selection of U. S. Court of Appeals decisions that analyze, interpret and apply provisions of the Copyright Act.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, of the Constitution empowers Congress "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." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 8. The very first Congress took up that charge in the Copyright Act of 1790, which granted authors of certain works "the sole right and liberty of printing, reprinting, publishing and vending" those works "for the term of fourteen years." Act of May 31, 1790, § 1, 1 Stat. 124.

In the ensuing two centuries, although the precise contours of the Act have changed, Congress's purpose has remained constant:

The enactment of copyright legislation by Congress under the terms of the Constitution is not based upon any natural right that the author has in his writings... but upon the ground that the welfare of the public will be served and progress of science and useful arts will be promoted by securing to authors for limited periods the exclusive rights to their writings.

H.R. Rep. No. 60-2222, at 7 (1909); see also Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 464 U.S. 417, 429, 104 S.Ct. 774, 78 L.Ed.2d 574 (1984) (This "limited grant" is "intended to motivate the creative activity of authors and inventors by the provision of a special reward, and to allow the public access to the products of their genius after the limited period of exclusive control has expired.").

The challenge with each iteration of the Act, both for its drafters and its interpreters, has been to strike the "difficult balance between the interests of authors and inventors in the control and exploitation of their writings and discoveries on the one hand, and society's competing interest in the free flow of ideas, information, and commerce on the other hand." Sony Corp., 464 U.S. at 429, 104 S.Ct. 774.

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