'Until today, the government had gotten away with it'

(Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash)
(Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash)

A government program that was set up years ago but never updated when the laws changed has been found to be stealing books from publishers, and was struck as unconstitutional, according to a report.

The decision is from the D.C Circuit Court of Appeals and came in a case handled by the Institute for Justice.

The IJ explains the problem was in a “longstanding federal program” that threatened publishers with huge fines if they published books without providing free copies to the government.

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The unanimous opinion found that a “mandatory deposit” requirement is in violation of the Takings Clause of the Constitution.

Robert McNamara, a lawyer for IJ, explained, “Today’s ruling affirms the basic principle that the government can’t take your stuff just because you’re doing something useful like publishing books.

“But the truly surprising thing is that, for decades, the federal government has pretended it can do exactly that, imposing huge burdens on book publishers. And, until today, the government had gotten away with it.”

The situation involved a demand by the government that anyone who publishes a book containing copyrightable material, which is any new material, must give the government copies.

“While the program has largely flown under the radar, it is big business. In fiscal 2021 alone, the government confiscated over $44 million worth of material without paying the publishers a dime,” the IJ said.

It actually is a legacy law that probably should have been changed years ago.

The nation’s original copyright system had those who wanted a copyright to trade for it, giving a copy of their work to the federal government in exchange for copyright.

But in the 20th century, that changed, so that copyright automatically followed the creation of any new work.

The IJ said Congress left the “zombie law” in place even though it was far from its original purpose.

The case at hand started when the Copyright Office told James Jenkins, operator of Valancourt Books, he was subject to “ruinous fines” for failing to provide those copies.

He then sued.

“The mandatory-deposit system told Americans that the only way to exercise their fundamental right to free speech was to give up their fundamental right to their private property,” said IJ Attorney Jeffrey Redfern. “Today’s victory reaffirms that we get to keep both at the same time.”

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