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Supreme Court agrees to consider sex offender list, copyright law

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    NMU         U.S. SUPREME COURT         Freedom of Information         Feb 28, 2002    

Supreme Court agrees to consider sex offender list, copyright law

  • Privacy and fair-use rights will come into play when court ponders an Alaska law the posts all sex offenders’ personal information on the Internet and a federal law that extends the copyright term.

The constitutionality of both an Alaska statute that permits the release of sex offenders’ personal information on the Internet and a congressional act that increases the term of protection for copyrighted material will be argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices will hear arguments in these cases during the next term, which starts in October 2002.

The Alaska law reached the court after an appellate court ruled that The Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act of 1994 was unconstitutional because it roped in individuals whose crimes occurred before the law was enacted.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) found the law to be “unquestionably punitive.”

Citing what is known as the “intents-effects test,” the appellate court ruled that the law violated the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution which protects individuals from legislation that “further increases the penalty by which a crime is punishable.”

The Alaska Sex Offender Registration Act forces convicted sex offenders to register all personal information with law enforcement officials so that it may be posted on the Internet. The Alaska Legislature passed the law when law enforcement officials expected to release from prison more than one hundred inmates convicted of sexually related crimes.

The law was immediately challenged by two convicted sex offenders and one of their wives. The wife, a registered nurse, felt that public knowledge of her husband’s past would inhibit her ability to properly perform her job. After the appellate court struck the law down on April 9, 2001, Alaska officials appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

In the copyright case the Supreme Court granted review after the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. (D.C. Cir.) ruled on Feb. 16, 2001 that the extension of copyright terms did not violate the First Amendment.

Provisions of the Copyright Term Extension Act, which extended the copyright terms “for both existing and future copyrighted works,” were found to be constitutional because the plaintiffs had no “right to exploit the copyrighted works of others,” said the appellate court in its decision.

A group of individuals, businesses and associations who use various works in the public domain, including a non-profit association that gives out free electronic versions of books on the Internet and a company that restores old films, filed suit against the U.S. Attorney General claiming that the new copyright law is not within Congress’ legal authority to pass.

The Copyright Act of 1976 provided for copyrighted material to remain protected until the death of its creator plus 50 years. The new copyright law amended the act by adding 20 more years past the end of the author’s natural life.

Both a district court and the appellate have court ruled in favor of the government.

(Doe vs. Otte; Eldered vs. Ashcroft) KG


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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