Monday, October 3, 2011

Supremes to Hear Cases on Warrantless GPS Tracking, Patenting “Thoughts” & More…

Wired - The Supreme Court’s 2011-2012 term begins Oct. 3 with arguments on the docket concerning everything from television profanity to warrantless GPS surveillance.

Cases we are tracking also surround whether Congress may place public-domain works into copyright and whether “thought” can be patented.

The justices hear about six dozen cases annually, and four dozen have been chosen so far. A number of crucial cases from the appellate courts are vying to be added.

The Justice Department, for instance, is asking the nine justices to review the constitutionality of a law making it a crime to lie about being a decorated military veteran. And artists want the high court to decide whether they should get “performance” royalties when a consumer purchases a digital download from iTunes. Those two petitions are pending.

Here is a summary of important cases that have been granted a hearing by the Supreme Court:

An abandoned FBI vehicle-tracking device/

United States v. Jones

Oral Argument Nov. 8

At the Obama administration’s urging, the Supreme Court will decide whether the government, without a court warrant, may affix GPS devices on suspects’ vehicles to track their every move. The Justice Department told the court that “a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another.” The administration is demanding that the justices undo a lower court decision that reversed the conviction and life sentence of a cocaine dealer whose vehicle was tracked via GPS for a month without a court warrant.

The issue is arguably one of the biggest Fourth Amendment cases in a decade — one weighing the collision of privacy, technology and the Constitution.

In 2001, the justices said thermal-imaging devices used to detect marijuana-growing operations inside a house amounted to a search requiring a court warrant.

The justices accepted the government’s petition to clear conflicting lower-court rulings on when warrants are required for GPS tracking. The administration, in its petition to the justices, said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was “wrong” in August when it reversed the drug dealer’s conviction, which was based on warrants to search and find drugs in the locations where defendant Antoine Jones had traveled.

The government told the justices that GPS devices have become a common tool in crime fighting. An officer shooting a dart can affix them to moving vehicles, and recently, a student in California found a tracking device attached to the underside of his car, which the FBI later demanded back.

Three other circuit courts of appeal have already said the authorities do not need a warrant for GPS vehicle tracking.

Igor Stravinsky/Wikimedia Commons

Golan v. Holder

Oral Argument Oct. 5

The top court has agreed to rule on a petition by a group of orchestra conductors, educators, performers, publishers and film archivists about whether Congress may take works out of the public domain and grant them copyright status. A federal appeals panel, reversing a lower court, ruled against the group, which has relied on artistic works in the public domain for their livelihoods. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set aside arguments that their First Amendment rights were breached because they could no longer exploit those works without paying royalties.

For a variety of reasons, the works at issue, which are foreign and were produced decades ago, became part of the public domain in the United States but were still copyrighted overseas. In 1994, Congress adopted legislation to move the works back into copyright, so U.S. policy would comport with an international copyright treaty known as the Berne Convention.                  More