The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 was established to lengthen the time in which copyrighted material would be considered non-public domain material. The CTEA was built to extend the original provisions of a copyright act established in 1790 by the US government, and the follow-up copyright act of 1976.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted in the majority for the CTEA. President Clinton signed the act in late 1998. Thus the CTEA had bipartisan support, although Bono had served the Republican Party during his lifetime.
The CTEA was the brainchild of former entertainer Sonny Bono. Bono later became an elected member of the House of Representatives. His life was tragically cut short by a skiing accident in January of 1998. His wife Mary Bono, was elected to take his place in the House, and further promoted the CTEA.
The goal of the CTEA was to extend the terms of copyright on literary, television and film works, and on characters from literature, television and film. Under the CTEA, works currently under copyright were granted an additional 20 years of copyright status.
Thus a copyrighted work is protected for the life of the author, and then for 70 years after his or her death. For a copyrighted work or character that has been created through collaboration, copyright extends for the life of the authors and 95 years after the death of the authors.
As well, material created outside the US that is based on a copyrighted character or theme, cannot be sold within the US. For example, a video game featuring a copyrighted character that is created in Japan could not be sold legally in the US.
The CTEA did not restore copyright status to those works, which had already passed into the public domain. It only applied to works that currently still maintained copyright status. Some critics argued that this was unfair for works that would have maintained their status and had passed into the public domain a few years before the passage of the CTEA.
The CTEA has sometimes been referred to as the Mickey Mouse Act, since one of the main protections provided was for Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, which would soon lose their copyright status. Some critics feel that the protection of intellectual property goes too far, and the length of copyright time now might inhibit the production of creative works that could be derived from copyrighted material.