Copyright Duration and the Progressive Degeneration of a Constitutional Doctrine

63 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2010

Date Written: June 1, 2005


Through the last few decades, Congress has rendered much of the law of copyright duration a confusing and chaotic patchwork of rules that are often irreconcilable and simply unworkable. One can learn the rules, of course, but the rules often depend on multiple variables and facts that are outside the reach of interested parties, and are usually lost in history as the term of copyright stretches over an increasing span of years. The result is a law that effectively undermines the notion of copyright expiration and places at risk the constitutional doctrine of “limited Times,” and with it the integrity of the public domain.

An examination of the history and incremental development of the law demonstrates its growing complexity and lack of practical feasibility of duration rules from the perspective of a user who is seeking to identify whether a work is protected or is in the public domain. A possible solution to some of the problems could be a system of registration of early works that would allow for clarity of claims and evenness of the application of copyright law.

Keywords: copyright, duration, public domain, registration, WIPO, CTEA, sound recordings

Suggested Citation

Crews, Kenneth D., Copyright Duration and the Progressive Degeneration of a Constitutional Doctrine (June 1, 2005). Syracuse Law Review, Vol. 55, No. 2, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Kenneth D. Crews (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
310-556-4660 (Phone)


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