Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA)

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Note: Information on this page is no longer being updated and may not reflect current law or policy.

CTEA: The Basics

The United States copyright system lets authors of creative works control how those works are used for a limited period of time. After this "limited time" has passed, creative works that were protected by the copyright monopoly are made available for the public to use as they see fit. As creative works fall into the public domain, the public is allowed to use those works as they wish, including to create new works from that previously protected source material.

Libraries and library patrons value and depend on the public domain. Unfortunately, the public domain has become much more narrow as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186, 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003).

In a 7-2 decision issued on Jan. 15, 2003, the Court held that the Congress was within its constitutional authority when it passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (Pub. L. 105-298, §§ 102(b) and (d), 112 Stat. 2827-2828) in 1998, extending copyright duration 20 years, and resurrecting copyright on works that had fallen into the public domain. Since the Eldred decision, several other challenges to the CTEA have been rejected: Kahle v. Gonzales (487 F.3d 697 (9th Cir. 2007)) and Golan v. Gonzales, (501 F.3d 1179 (10th Cir. 2007)).

In 2003 and 2005, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California introduced the Public Domain Enhancement Act, which would have imposed a renewal requirement on copyright owners who wish to receive the full term extension (a requirement that was eliminated by the CTEA). Renewal would have been required at 50 years into the copyright’s term and every 10 years thereafter, at a nominal fee of $1. Both the 2003 and 2005 bills died in committee, and the Public Domain Enhancement Act has not been reintroduced since 2005.


The following information will help AALL members understand the CTEA and how it affects libraries and librarians.

Member Articles


  • Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186., 123 S.Ct. 769, 154 L.Ed.2d 683 (2003).
    • Majority Opinion* (01-618) : Majority (Ginsburg) and dissenting opinions in Eldred v. Ashcroft. (U.S. Supreme Court)
    • Oral argument:The audio and transcript of the oral argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft, with Professor Lawrence Lessig and U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson (
    • Eldred amicus curiae brief*: The American Association of Law Libraries and other organizations filed a brief in the Eldred case in opposition to the CTEA. (AALL)
    • Petitioners' brief*: The brief filed by petitioner Eric Eldred in opposition to the CTEA. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
    • Respondents' brief*: The brief filed by the United States in support of the CTEA. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
    • A website explaining and advancing the views of the petitioners, including named party Eric Eldred.
  • Kahle v. Ashcroft case page, including links to briefs and orders in the case (Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society)
  • Affidavit* submitted by Hal R. Varian, dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. (OpenLaw, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School)
  • Copyright Term Extension Act Brief: A summary of the CTEA's major points. (ALA Washington Office)
  • When Works Pass Into the Public Domain: An easy-to-read chart that simplifies copyright terms and public domain calculations by Lolly Gasaway, former Committee chairwoman. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Duration of Copyright: A four-page circular from the United States Copyright Office explaining the various provisions of the law dealing with the length of copyright protection.
  • Public Domain Day: Observed annually on January 1st, Public Domain Day is a recognition of the works that enter the public domain due to expiration of copyright terms. (Center for the Study of the Public Domain)