In all of the fantastic fanfare that occurred yesterday with the SOPA and PIPA blackouts, a fairly important decision from the Supreme Court slipped out with little or no attention and its potential impacts could be just as damaging to the art and music community as the SOPA and PIPA legislation.
In a 6-2 ruling yesterday the court ruled that works put into the public domain are not placed into a "territory that they cannot exit". This grants Congress the opportunity to re-grant copyright to works. What isn't made entirely clear though is how the copyright gets reapplied. Is it restricted to the original owner of the copyright, their estate, their family? Can the copyright be transferred by the will of Congress to another party? None of these questions are fully laid out in the decision and probably won't be fully fleshed out until a challenge comes in the future to iron out the wrinkles.
The fear here though also stems from the issue of creative license for the remixing and copying of work. One of the foundations of creative expression comes from the reuse, recycling and past works. There is also a potentially huge impact that this could put upon the classical musical world as well. With so much of the history of many of these works being hundreds of years olds in some cases, many orchestras or bands often times rely on access to these works for instruction and performance.
I am more and more finding the attack on the creative and arts field from corporate and personal interests depressing and actually frightening for our county. We are now set in a world where the dissemination of free information should be easier than ever. History has continually shown that the societies in which the arts and sciences flourish freely are the ones that are the most successful. Ancient Egypt, Greeks, Romans, Renaissance Italy, etc. We should be celebrating a epoch of cultural enlightenment, but we instead are finding ourselves caught in a world of fear, isolation, monetary greed and control.