Eldred v. Ashcroft

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In Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the term of most existing copyrights to 95 years and that of many new copyrights to 70 years after the author's death. The economic effect of this 20-year extension—the longest blanket extension since the Nation's founding—was to make the copyright term not limited, but virtually perpetual. Its primary legal effect was to grant the extended term not to authors, but to their heirs, estates, or corporate successors. But the Court upheld the law under the Constitution's Copyright Clause, which grants Congress the power to "promote the Progress of Science ... by securing for limited Times to Authors ... the exclusive Right to their respective Writings." Art. I, § 8, cl. 8.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the 7-2 Court.

Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, writing that the practical effect of the law is not to promote, but to inhibit, the progress of "Science"—by which word the Framers meant learning or knowledge.[1]

Justice John Paul Stevens also wrote a lengthy dissent.


  1. E. Walterscheid, The Nature of the Intellectual Property Clause: A Study in Historical Perspective 125-126 (2002).