The First Amendment Center has a shocking article up about a case currently before the SCOTUS involving Public Domain works.
Public Domain works are those whose copyright has expired and are generally regarded by most to be “free” works. Shakespeare plays and classical music are two examples of things which, while you may pay for a printed version, are entirely free at least in the sense of intellectual property. You don’t have to pay anyone to perform a Mozart concerto and you can quote Shakespeare to your hearts content without fear of copyright infringement lawsuits.
But as the article below notes, that’s not always the case, as Congress passed a law in 1994 making it possible to return works from the public domain back into copyrightable properties. This case concerned works considered in the public domain in the United States, but still copywrited in Europe. The effect of that law has been that the copyrights to works of classical music – such as Peter and the Wolf, the song most of us learned to identify musical instruments by in the second grade – have been reacquired and are now off-limits to any but the wealthiest classical orchestras (sort of an oxymoron, really).
So here we have a case of copyright where its not software, not medical technology or any of the other hot-button IP issues. Yet this closing of public domain access can have a potentially chilling effect on the arts in schools. Of course, it is a free speech issue. Especially since the “contours of copyright law,” as they are referred to in the SCOTUS case, are designed with a pretty clear intent of giving inventors control over their own works *while they live* and bequeathing those rights to the public after the inventor’s death. Its meant both to eliminate the possibility of unlimited monopoly and also to allow ideas to flow freely.