- The ruling means royalties will have to be paid for some foreign works
- A coalition of groups had sued to keep the works in the free-access "public domain"
- At issue are Pablo Picasso works, novels by J.R.R. Tolkien
The 6-2 ruling is a setback for a coalition of groups that had sought to keep works by foreign artists easily available in the United States without payment of royalties.
At issue was whether the Constitution's "Progress Clause" prohibited Congress from taking such works out of the public domain.
A group of artists, film archivists, and educators sued after an international treaty signed by the United States restored copyright protection to thousands of once-royalty-free works originating in other countries.
The plaintiffs made a free-speech argument, claiming the ruling would create an artistic vacuum, making a large body of songs and films out of their reach, if they had to pay fees.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, downplayed such concerns.
"Neither congressional practice nor our decisions treat the public domain, in any and all cases, as untouchable by copyright legislation," she said. Provisions in the law do "not unconstitutionally abridge speech."
The plaintiffs were supported by the ACLU, Internet website giants like Google, and library groups.
The big winners in the dispute are larger media and publishing companies, which hope this high court decision will now lead to greater reciprocal access to foreign markets for American books, music, films, television and other creative endeavors.
Among the works in question were Pablo Picasso and M.C. Escher artwork, novels by Virginia Woolf and J.R.R. Tolkien, and music by Sergei Prokofiev, composer of "Peter and the Wolf"-- which is frequently performed in community orchestras.
Full story at CNN