History
Fact-checked

At HistoricalIndex, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (CTEA)?

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, often dubbed the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," significantly lengthened U.S. copyright terms. It added 20 years to existing and future copyrights, allowing creators and their heirs to benefit longer. This act has sparked debate on balancing creative incentives with public domain enrichment. How does this impact your access to culture? Let's explore.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 was established to lengthen the time in which copyrighted material would be considered non-public domain material. The CTEA was built to extend the original provisions of a copyright act established in 1790 by the US government, and the follow-up copyright act of 1976.

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted in the majority for the CTEA. President Clinton signed the act in late 1998. Thus the CTEA had bipartisan support, although Bono had served the Republican Party during his lifetime.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The CTEA was the brainchild of former entertainer Sonny Bono. Bono later became an elected member of the House of Representatives. His life was tragically cut short by a skiing accident in January of 1998. His wife Mary Bono, was elected to take his place in the House, and further promoted the CTEA.

The goal of the CTEA was to extend the terms of copyright on literary, television and film works, and on characters from literature, television and film. Under the CTEA, works currently under copyright were granted an additional 20 years of copyright status.

Thus a copyrighted work is protected for the life of the author, and then for 70 years after his or her death. For a copyrighted work or character that has been created through collaboration, copyright extends for the life of the authors and 95 years after the death of the authors.

As well, material created outside the US that is based on a copyrighted character or theme, cannot be sold within the US. For example, a video game featuring a copyrighted character that is created in Japan could not be sold legally in the US.

The CTEA did not restore copyright status to those works, which had already passed into the public domain. It only applied to works that currently still maintained copyright status. Some critics argued that this was unfair for works that would have maintained their status and had passed into the public domain a few years before the passage of the CTEA.

The CTEA has sometimes been referred to as the Mickey Mouse Act, since one of the main protections provided was for Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, which would soon lose their copyright status. Some critics feel that the protection of intellectual property goes too far, and the length of copyright time now might inhibit the production of creative works that could be derived from copyrighted material.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998?

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, often referred to as the CTEA, is a U.S. law that extended copyright terms by 20 years. This means that works created by individual authors are now protected for the life of the author plus 70 years, and works created by corporations or anonymous authors are protected for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. This extension was enacted to align U.S. copyright law more closely with international standards.

Why was the CTEA enacted?

The CTEA was enacted for several reasons, including the desire to bring U.S. copyright law into harmony with the European Union, which had longer terms. It was also influenced by lobbying from copyright owners who wanted to retain control of their works for a longer period. The act was named after the late Congressman Sonny Bono, who was a strong advocate for copyright protection.

How has the CTEA affected the public domain?

The CTEA has significantly affected the public domain by delaying the entry of copyrighted works into it. Before the CTEA, works would have entered the public domain after 50 years post-author's death or 75 years post-publication for corporate works. The extension means that no copyrighted works have entered the public domain due to expiration since the act's passage until January 1, 2019, when the first batch of works published in 1923 became public domain under the extended terms.

What are the criticisms of the CTEA?

Critics argue that the CTEA hinders cultural exchange and innovation by keeping works out of the public domain for an excessive period. They contend that it benefits large copyright holders at the expense of the public interest and creates a "copyright cliff" where a large volume of works will enter the public domain all at once, rather than gradually. The Supreme Court case Eldred v. Ashcroft challenged the constitutionality of the CTEA, but the act was ultimately upheld.

Has the CTEA been challenged in court?

Yes, the CTEA has been challenged in court. The most notable case is Eldred v. Ashcroft, where Internet publisher Eric Eldred and others argued that the CTEA violated the "limited Times" clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the CTEA in a 7-2 decision, stating that the extension was a rational exercise of Congress's constitutional authority under the Copyright Clause.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent HistoricalIndex contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent HistoricalIndex contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discussion Comments

wander

I have been in various countries throughout Asia and I don't know what the copyright status of Mickey Mouse is over there, but there's a lot of stuff sold in street markets that are clearly not authorized by the Disney company. However, at more legitimate stores they have official Disney merchandise with holograms and everything to prove their authenticity.

If Mickey Mouse were in the public domain in America I guess it would be a lot like that. Does anyone know what the copyright duration laws are like in other countries? Are there cases where certain characters, books or movies are public domain in one country but not the rest of the world?

letshearit

We have this piece of legislation to thank for the fact that new works are passing into public domain at a snail's pace, depriving our culture of the chance to make brilliant new interpretations of classic twentieth century works of art. I don't see why an author should have their works protected for 70 years after their death, generations after they're no longer around to see any royalties from them.

It's no longer about protecting creative people and now it's all about corporations hoarding intellectual property for their own profit. As long as Disney has its way I guess the current laws will keep getting extended and no new works for hire will enter the public domain, ever.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Woman standing behind a stack of books
      Woman standing behind a stack of books