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Orphan Works Update

You’ve seen me write in this space about the proposed legislation that would radically alter copyright law in a way that would be a disaster for creative professionals. Congress was scheduled to adjourn this session yesterday and it looks like the bill did not make it out of committee. That’s good.

What’s bad is there are still some legislators set on getting this thing passed. I cannot see a single benefit for anyone except companies and publishers that formerly had to buy the rights to use illustrations, photos, books or other creative works and can now use them for free if they cannot find the copyright owners. The language of the bill is such that the onus is on the copyright holder to catch them and prove they didn’t try hard enough to find them. As it is now the bill is literally a license to steal.

Here is the latest update from the Illustrators Partnership:

FROM THE ILLUSTRATORS’ PARTNERSHIP

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS

First the good news: The Copyright Modernization Act (aka Orphan Works Act) appears to be dead for this year. For the third time in as many weeks the bill failed to make it out of mark-up today, and in two days Congress adjourns for this session.

Now the bad news: Lamar Smith seems committed to this awful bill and has promised to bring it back next year.

And a caveat: Congress returns after elections for a “lame-duck” session, so the bill could still be attached to some other unrelated bill and passed into law without discussion. Don’t breathe too easily until this Congress is adjourned for good.

Although there’s little reason to break out the champagne over this development, the illustration community should take great satisfaction from the knowledge that your unprecedented efforts have brought sufficient scrutiny to this bill to have stalled it so far. Remember that in March, the bill’s sponsors warned us that it would be law by now and that any group that opposed it would be “ignored” and “left behind.” It hasn’t worked out that way.

Because of your efforts – and those of our allies, the photographers, textile designers, greeting card manufacturers and others – Orphan Works legislation has now been exposed as a Trojan Horse for those who want to see a radical change in copyright law. We need to stay vigilant and we must expect that when the bill comes back (in whatever form) its sponsors will be prepared for principled opposition. They’ll plan their strategy accordingly, and we should be ready to renew our campaign all over again.

In the meantime, thanks to all of you for a united effort – you did a fantastic job. We’ll pass along more information when we learn more.

— Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner,
for the Board of the Illustrators’ Partnership

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Creative professionals need to continue to let their congressional representatives know they oppose this bill, and it needs to be discarded or the language greatly changed to protect the rights of intellectual copyright holders. Stockhouses and other issues have already taken huge bites out of the livelihood of photographers and illustrators… this bill would turn the entire internet into one big free stockhouse. It’s that serious. Contact your local representatives and let them know it’s not a workable solution.

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