Orphan Works Progress

May 30th, 2008 | Posted in News

I forgot to mention one other good thing to come out of the Reuben weekend was that the NCS addressed the Orphan Works legislation at their annual business meeting on Saturday morning. Stu Rees, the NCS’s official unofficial lawyer to the membership, educated those at the meeting about the bill and what it could mean to them. It’s a larger problem for some of the long time cartoonists who have done tens of thousands of gag cartoons or illustrations over the years who could easily find their work being used without their consent or without the chance to negotiate a fair rate for it, as I’ve discussed here a lot.

Incidentally, congratulations to Stu for winning the NCS “Silver T-Square” award for his years of service to the profession of cartooning.

One revelation that Stu sprung on us was that is has appearently been revealed that Google is one of the primary forces behind the bill, and they are hiding behind the legitimate fronts of museums, archivists and independent filmmakers who actually have legitimate reasons for wanting to see a solution to real orphaned works and thier deterioration. Google, of course, only wants to make more money. One of the features of the latest Orphan Works bill is a study and the eventual establishment of “private databases” available to register work on and to search for work within to see if the copyright holder can be found. I wonder what internet search company would be first in line to establish just a database, and charge for including your work on it?

In other Orphan Works news, last week Lawrence Lessig, a major proponent of copyright law reduction that you would think would be very much in favor of something like the Orphan Works Act, published this article in the New York Times admonishing the bill and saying it should be dismissed. Lessig, a Standford professor of law and a person who would like to see copyrights basically abolished and everything become public domain after a very short time, calls the law “an amazingly onerous and inefficient change, which would unfairly and unnecessarily burden copyright holders with little return to the public.” That one threw some people for a loop. Lessig is one person you’d think would be in favor of this type of legislation.

As archaic as a letter writing campaign seems, it is having some effect. Here is a response I recieved from one of my senators, Norm Coleman, from a letter I wrote to his office voicing my concerns:

Dear Mr. Richmond:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding S. 2913, which is commonly referred to as “orphan works legislation.” I share your concerns about the impact this law could have on the rights of an artist to his or her work and I appreciate hearing from you on this topic. Please know that I will closely monitor this issue.

As you may know, S. 2913 was introduced on April 24, 2008 by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-OH) and aims to provide a limitation on judicial remedies in copyright infringement cases involving orphan works.

An orphan work is a copyrighted work of art where it is difficult or impossible to contact the holder of the copyright. On January 31st, 2006 the United States Copyright Office submitted its Report on Orphan Works to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This report concluded that the treatment of orphan works under current copyright law results in problematic obstacles to successful identification and location of a copyright owner.

Under current law, a copyright is created automatically when the creative expression is fixed in tangible form. I understand you are concerned that a move away from this precedent could make it difficult for artists to obtain and maintain the rights to their own work. Please know that I will not support legislative efforts that weaken an artist’s ability to obtain and retain the rights to their work. Per your request, please know I will keep your views in mind should legislation in relation to orphan works reach the Senate floor for a vote in the 110th Congress.

Once again thank you for contacting me regarding this issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me on any issue of concern to you or your family.

Sincerely,
Norm Coleman
United States Senate

Once again, here is a link to use to send form letters to your senate and congressional representatives about your concerns with the misguided Orphan Works Act. I would, however, urge you only to use them if you cannot find the time to write a personal letter to your elected officials. These form letter campaigns are only about numbers, whereas a personal letter makes a much stronger impression and might actually get read by someone other than some page in a blue dress.

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