May 24, 2022

New from Library Copyright Alliance: "Golan v. Holder: A Farewell to Constitutional Challenges to Copyright Laws"

A summary of the recent Golan v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court of the United States was written for the LCA by attorney/intellectual property expert, Jonathan Band.

The Summary Begins:

On January 13, 2012, the Supreme Court by a 6-2 vote affirmed the Tenth Circuit decision in Golan v. Holder. (Justice Kagan recused herself, presumably because of her involvement in the case while she was Solicitor General.) The case concerned the constitutionality of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), which restored copyright in foreign works that had entered into the public domain because the copyright owners had failed to comply with formalities such as notice; or because the U.S. did not have copyright treaties in place with the country at the time the work was created (e.g., the Soviet Union). The petitioners were orchestra conductors, musicians, and publishers who enjoyed free access to works removed by URAA from the public domain. The Court in its decision made clear that constitutional challenges to a copyright statute would not succeed so long as the provision does not have an unlimited term, and does not tread on the idea/expression dichotomy or the fair use doctrine.

Justice Breyer wrote a strong dissent that contains many interesting observations concerning the economic theory of copyright; how the URAA reflects a European rather than American approach to copyright; orphan works; and the causes of infringement.

The American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) joined an amicus brief written by Electronic Frontier Foundation in support of reversal. This brief, referred to as the ALA brief, received significant attention in both the majority and dissenting opinions.

The document continues with an analysis of the majority and dissenting opinions.

Direct to the Full Text Summary (8 pages; PDF)

The Library Copyright Alliance consists of the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries.

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.