Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is preparing legislation that would extend for another 20 years the protection of copyrighted works of songwriters, film studios and authors.
Under the current Copyright Act passed in 1976, creative artists and their heirs receive royalties on their works through the life of the author, plus an extra 50 years.
Film studios – are granted 75 years of copyright protection for motion pictures. At the expiration of the copyright term, the works enter the public domain and creators of the works receive no further compensation.
Under Hatch’s bill, songwriters and individual creative artists would be given copyright protection through the life of the author, plus an additional 70 years – 20 years beyond the current standard.
Studios would be a big beneficiary, since they would be allowed to rake in 20 years of extra video rental revenues from classic pix such as “Casablanca.”
The legislation also would benefit heirs to prolific songwriters, such as Ira Gershwin, whose works remain musical mainstays even to this day.
A cottage industry exists of entrepreneurs and companies waiting for popular works to fall into public domain so the pix or records can be released under their banners.
The protection for motion pictures and other collaborative “works for hire,” such as most sound recordings, would run for 95 years.
Hatch’s bill would make U.S. copyright law similar to legislation passed last year by the European Union that takes effect in July.
Hollywood “undoubtedly would advocate the longer term” of copyright protection proposed by Hatch, according to one industry source.
It is also unclear what effect the bill would have on works that are about to expire or would expire when the legislation is proffered or signed into law.
As happened when the 1909 Copyright Law was updated in 1976, the grandfathering of works created havoc in the subsequent years, as works due to expire were suddenly no longer available.
The Hatch bill could also face opposition from archivists and librarians, two groups that have an interest in seeing works of art made quickly available to the general public.
Adam Sandler in Los Angeles contributed to this report.