Sometimes the most important things can be buried in out-of-the-way places. Consider the recent Supreme Court decision concerning whether Supap Kirtsaeng’s legal team could collect legal fees from John Wiley & Sons concerning the fair use lawsuit they took all the way to the Supreme Court. I’d assumed that the most impact it could have on copyright jurisprudence was in making little guys more confident in taking matters to the Supreme Court—but it turns out SCOTUS buried the lede so well it took a couple of weeks and copyright expert Jonathan Band to turn it up.
Band writes that the opinion in the matter includes some editorializing about the purpose of copyright that, since it comes down in a Supreme Court decision, could serve as a none-too-subtle nudge to Congress, not to mention an important precedent in future cases. Copyright law’s purpose is “enriching the general public through access to creative works”—and, crucially, it does that by balancing two distinct aims: “encouraging and rewarding authors’ creations while enabling others to build on that work.” (Emphasis mine.)
Band notes that this isn’t the first time SCOTUS has pointed out the importance of creators being able to build on the work of others, but it is the first time it talked about building “on that work” rather than on “the ideas and information conveyed by a work.” In other words, the ability to make fair use of the work itself by reselling it in another market.
This comes right when Congress is considering reforming sections of the DMCA that have been causing YouTube video creators trouble precisely because they build on the work of others. Nate Hoffelder points out also that it comes right when Paramount and CBS are suing a fan film studio because it built on their copyrighted Star Trek work.
It’s interesting to consider all the attention copyright has been getting lately, between this matter and Hillary Clinton’s copyright-reform-related talking points. I wonder whether Disney will have quite so easy a time of things when it comes time for it to try to extend the length of copyright terms again?
(Found via Techdirt.)