Go ahead. Sing Happy Birthday in a public setting. In order to do so, you’ll have to pay a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner royalty fees. Why? Because AOL Time Warner owns the copyright to Happy Birthday and because today the Supreme Court has ruled that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 is, in fact, Constitutionally sound. The law extended protection from life of the author plus fifty years to life of the author plus seventy years. This not only applies to newly granted copyrights but also previously granted ones as well.
This means you can’t sing God Bless America in public until 2064 without playing a royalty. You can’t sing Happy Birthday until 2010.
Disney and other major corporations lobbied very hard to have this bill passed. The earliest images of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willey, were set to come out from the monopoly granted by copyright and into the public domain.
The real tragedy here is that now a great deal of works set to come into the public domain will no longer be able to do so. Our ability to archive and preserve parts of American culture and history has been severely hampered. We, every single American, has lost out on our own cultural heritage.