The Constitution of the United States grants “Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries” for a limited time.[i] The importance of this clause cannot be overemphasized as it says much about the Constitution’s drafters who included this right in the body of the Constitution itself. It was not a latent thought requiring an amendment – rather a patent assertion that rights related to authors and inventors were founding principles for a new nation.
Technology, then as now, is vigilant in its attack on those rights and serves to test the strength of the nation’s resolve in protecting the rights of authors and inventors.
Although the United States strives to balance the public’s interest in authors and inventors works, the protective term is frequently lengthened. For example, in 1790, the term for copyright and patents was 14 years from issuance. For copyrights, the term could be renewed for another 14 years. Upon the expiration of either, the patent or copyright entered into the public domain, where anyone could use the work without paying a licensing fee. In 1831, the copyright term was extended to 28 years with another 14-year option to extend. Today, a copyright[ii] held by an individual is protected for life plus 70 years under 17 U.S.C. Section 302.