Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism
Copyright Progress, Maybe

The U.S. Copyright Office wants comments on

"the issues raised by 'orphan works,' i.e., copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate. Concerns have been raised that the uncertainty surrounding ownership of such works might needlessly discourage subsequent creators and users from incorporating such works in new creative efforts or making such works available to the public."
This is wonderful news, and a sign of that people like Larry Lessig are making progress in educating the powers-that-be on the issues.

Public Knowledge has a good summary.

This is good news. Of course my opinion is that orphan works should go to the public domain. I guess the details of how one determines whether something is an orphan or not will be important, but I'm sure we can think of something. Lessig's idea of a minimal charge to keep your copyright alive comes to mind.

5 Comments

Interesting post. Had no clue about this issue and even reading those sites, I feel somewhat clueless. Howabout asking a question? Whatever I blog, flickr, trekshare, orkut, etc - what happens to this when I die? If I don't assign a Creative Commons to my photos, do my relatives take care of them? Does it really matter anyway?

If you read the entire notice on this at the Copyright Office website, as I have, you will learn that the Berne Convention admits no "formalities" in retaining a copyright. Lessig's plan is full of formalities, leaving us the choice of withdrawing from the Berne treaty or violating it. This is why renewals went away in the first place.

The Canadian Government has come up with a way to handle orphan works which seems practical and is cited in the document. As are some other alternatives.

Of course they all involve paying for what you use.

Comment From: Timothy Phillips

Withdrawing from the Berne convention would be fine with me. The U.S. gets nothing good from it anyhow.

The true solution, however, is to set the duration of copyright short enough that "orphan works" are less likely come into existence, because the owners of the various rights will be less likely to be decades dead or hidden behind a long chain of bankruptcies.

First of all, I don't understand this obsession with using other's people creative works as part of your own. Don't you guys have any original ideas?

Secondly, the big barrier here is not the existance of copyright but the lack of a market demand for this stuff. Without a market, who is going to bother to put it up? Well-meaning altruists who make up lists of things for their friends to read?
Freedom of choice also means the freedom not to read something. If it is put up and no one reads it, then that is just not an efficent use of resources.

Thirdly, were we to withdraw from Berne, we would give pirates worldwide legal shelter to infringe our intellectual property and that is still one of our biggest exports.

Big media would love it. They are transnational and operate on a global basis. They would be the first to pirate creative work of others abroad since there would be no penalty here. (You can only sue here for infringements abroad if you can prove that there is alos an infringement here). If we are not a signatory to these various treaties then foreign courts have no obligation to accept our cases. In other words , we would have no protection at all.

Why is this so hard to understand?


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Tell the U.S. Copyright Office to look for a solution for the problem of orphan works. Visit OrphanWorks.org before March 25, 2005. Read More

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