Article I, Section 8, of the U.S. Constitution assigns to the Congress the power:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;That clause doesn't simply establish a right to ownership of intellectual property (hereafter referred to as 'IP'); it establishes the power of the Congress to impose on the citizenry the obligation to police and defend that monopoly.
The establishment of that obligation was necessary in order to create a temporary right to ownership of ideas and the expression of ideas in patents and copyright, respectively, because such a right does not naturally occur. In return for the enforcement of the IP monopoly by the public, the IP owner gives up that monopoly and the IP transfers to the public domain after a limited time.
Note that until the IP owner actually gives up the monopoly the public will use resources to police and enforce the continuation of the monopoly. If the IP owner never gives up the monopoly at all, this arrangement amounts to a simple transfer of wealth -- from the taxpayers and to the corporations and heirs of the original creator of the IP.
Now, obviously, 'limited Times' does not mean forever. Further, it doesn't even suggest that such limited times extend beyond the lifetimes of the original 'Authors and Inventors' mentioned in the clause itself. To pretend otherwise requires one to base a judgement on similarities to other judgements far removed from the original text.
If the current judgement provides a rationale for unlimited additional extensions to copyright duration, then clearly, the judgement is in error. Otherwise, one would have to assume that the phrase 'limited Times' meant, in the context used, any period of time less than infinite. Of course, such an assumption would mean that the entire Constitional clause in question means nothing at all. And, that, dear reader, is why indefinite extensions to copyright periods can't be consistent with the Constitution. The Supreme Court doesn't have the authority to vacate a clause of the very document that it was created to enforce.
The decision in Eldred v. Ashcroft could be reasonable if the following conditions were met:
- The Constitution were amended to be consistent with copyright extensions far beyond the death of the author, and
- The copyright owner was required to pay for the enforcement of their own IP monopoly.
Without the first condition, the decision is unconstitutional; without the second it is an unjustifiable transfer of wealth. Currently, it is both.
I'll leave the arguments about the questionable motivating effects of long and retroactive copyright extensions to others more qualified in those matters. Instead, I'll just leave you with this: My qualifications to comment on this are the same as yours; I can read the plain language of the Constitution and, in most cases, easily understand the obvious meaning of the text. It is also clear to me from my reading of that document that the correct -- and only -- way to change it is by amendment, not by judicial proclamation.
Compared to other abuses of the Constitution by the Court, by both decision and the averted eye, this offense may seem slight, but it matters to me. I don't appreciate the Court extending Disney's and others' claim on my tax dollars to guard their corporate fortunes. Walt Disney is dead; where is my public domain repayment?