February 25, 2006

Orphan Works

This seems to be the season for odious bits of legislation. First NAIS (see my posts two posts and also visit NoNAIS) Now Congress wants to seriously gut the Federal Copyright Laws when it comes to photography. From the American Society of Media Photographers website:
Urgent Call for Your Action on Orphan Works
The U.S. Copyright Office issued its report on Orphan Works only a couple of weeks ago. The end of that report contained proposed language for an amendment to the Copyright Act. That proposal is now being fast-tracked in Washington with a good chance of passage before the end of this Session. In my opinion, if that language is enacted in its current form, it will be the worst thing that has happened to independent photographers and other independent visual artists since Work Made for Hire contracts.

Orphan works are basically works whose copyright owners cannot be located. The term "Orphan Works" is really a dangerously misleading phrase. It makes it sound as if it includes only a few works that are not valued enough by their creators to warrant taking care of them. That may be true for owners of many kinds of copyrights. However, the reality is that for independent photographers and illustrators, the majority of your published photographs may well become Orphan Works. The reason for that is that, unlike just about every other category of copyrighted works, photographs and illustrations are typically published without any copyright notice or credit to the photographer or illustrator. The one exception to that has traditionally been editorial uses, but even there the trend seems to be away from providing credit lines. As more and more photographs are published on the Internet, credits become even rarer. Worse, even if you registered your photographs at the Copyright Office, there is no mechanism for identifying you or your photograph or for locating you through those records, if the user does not know your name.

Under the proposed legislation, a person or other entity who wants to use a copyrighted work is required to make only a "good faith, reasonably diligent search" to locate the copyright owner. If, after making such a search, the user is unable to locate the copyright owner, he/she/it gets an almost free license to use the work. If the copyright owner never comes forward, the user gets to use the work for free. Even if the copyright owner discovers the use and demands payment, the MOST the copyright owner can get is "reasonable compensation," i.e. a reasonable license fee for the use actually made. There is NO possibility of statutory damages or attorneys' fees, even if the work was registered before the use was made without your permission.
And it gets worse. If you take photos, design websites or create art, this is of concern to you and you should send a letter to the people involved. The website provides a list of the people involved with their FAX numbers. Posted by DaveH at February 25, 2006 5:24 PM
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