Opening briefs were filed May 20, 2002 in Eldred v. Ashcroft. The case is a constitutional challenge of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended existing and future copyrights by 20 years. For an excellent analysis of this case and the history of copyright read Is Life Plus Seventy Too Much?
Copyright in the United States was based on the common law system to forbid copying and was not based on author’s rights. The founders saw copyright as a way to secure benefits for the public from the works of authors and not as a way to reward authors. Copyright was intended to create a system that would foster creativity and learning and would promote the distribution of works by protecting the author. Therefore, the original copyright system was 14 years plus an optional extension of 14 years if the author was still alive. With CTEA that has been extended to the life of the author plus 70 years.
I found the Internet Archive Amicus brief particularly compelling. They emphasize the number of projects working to prepare out-of-copyright works for digital distribution. From the brief: “For the second time in history the collection of all recorded information is within our grasp. Digital technology allows us the opportunity to build a ‘universal’ library that dwarfs the collections of the Alexandria Library and even our modern Library of Congress.”