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U.S. Supreme Court

Chief Justice Roberts Wants to Know: ‘What About Jimi Hendrix?’

Posted Oct 6, 2011 8:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Move over, Bob Dylan. You’re not the only rock star cropping up in the legal arguments of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts quoted Dylan in a 2008 opinion. On Wednesday, he used Jimi Hendrix in a hypothetical during oral arguments on the constitutionality of a recopyright law, report the New York Times, the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

The 1994 recopyright law removed thousands of foreign films, music, books and paintings from the public domain and gave them copyright protection. The measure was enacted to help the United States comply with international treaties protecting the copyrights of American works.

Roberts questioned whether removing a song from the public domain violates the First Amendment. As an example, he questioned whether the free speech rights of Jimi Hendrix would have been violated if he had not been allowed to play “The Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock.

“What about Jimi Hendrix, right?" Roberts asked. "He has a distinctive rendition of the national anthem, and assuming the national anthem is suddenly entitled to copyright protection that it wasn’t before, he can’t do that, right?”

Conductors, filmmakers and others challenging the law claim it violates the First Amendment and exceeds Congress’ power to grant copyrights. The case is Golan v. Holder.

Previous case coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "ABA Brief Supports Recopyright Law Against First Amendment Challenge"

ABAJournal.com: "Supreme Court to Consider First Amendment Rights of Conductors in Recopyright Case"

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