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I’d like to hear more!!! The Orphan Works Act of 2008


I have received two alerts–one from Diane Burko and one from Carolyne Krull, executive director of the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts, in Millville, NJ, about a bill under consideration in Congress, which affects copyrights on art works.

I am reluctant to jump into the fray because I simply do not know enough. I am chary of this sort of call to action because I do not know the source for the initial call–whether they are people with an ax to grind or people who overreact to everything. I also do not know the underpinnings of the bill–the why and who behind it that caused the authors to take this action. What is their ax to grind? How do they stand to benefit?

On the face of it, the shift does sound cumbersome and counterproductive for artists. But if anyone has something informed and temperate to say about this, and would like to begin a discussion in the comments, go for it, please.

Here’s one of the letters:

Please view the YouTube video for a concise explanation of this Bill concerning the copyright laws of visual art.

Artists Call to Action
The Orphan Works Act of 2008

Don’t Let This Pass
Make Your Voice Heard

On April 24, Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced legislation (S.2913, HR 5889), which is now being referred to as the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. It is virtually the same bill that was presented in 2006, and subsequently rejected by Congress. But now, they are trying again.

If passed, the Act would radically alter copyright laws, taking away the automatic copyright now guaranteed to artists of all types who create any type of work. Right now, under U.S. law, you are automatically guaranteed copyright on everything you create, from the sketches in your sketchpad to your best paintings and sculptures. Under the Orphan Works Act, every creator will be required to register everything he or she creates in a private registry system, requiring a fee of course, and supposedly to make it easier for the “public” to search for works and contact the creators if they want to use the works for some purpose.

Everything created in the last 30 years will need to be registered through this as-yet nonexistent system, including those works already registered via additional fees with the copyright office. If they aren’t, and some member of the public makes “due diligence” to find the creator of a work and can’t find him or her, that member of the public is entitled to use the work without any limitations, and artists will have no legal recourse. That means every piece of work you have out there, especially online, would be open season for use by major publishing houses and businesses (Microsoft–who owns one of the largest online image databases–and Google have already voiced support for the bill and indicated they will use thousands of images)
and everyone in between.

Proponents of the bill say it will assist the public in identifying and contacting creators of works and going through the proper channels to contact them to ask for permission. While we understand the need for an organized system of search, there are MAJOR FLAWS in the proposed bill that need to be addressed before any such proposal should take place. Here are a few points:

Under this law, you would need to register every piece of work you create, including those works that you have already registered with the Copyright Office officially, in some system that does not exist and would likely require you to pay to do so. The time and cost to do this is going to be prohibitive for visual artists. While this is meant to apply to all types of creative works, including music and literary, visual artists will be impacted the most because of the sheer volume of work we create, making it very expensive to register everything you have ever created or will create.
For the visual arts, there would still be little protection for you and your work, even if it is registered, because search tools would rely on names of artists or titles of work, and not image recognition tools, which are still in their infancy of development. Under this law, if you register your work, you would have to respond to EVERY inquiry sent to you for use of the work. So in other words, if you have a work out there in a registry system, and some person contacts you and says he wants to use your work for free on his Web site or in his new catalog, you would need to take the time to officially respond to every inquiry within a specified time limit, letting him know if you do not want to have him publish your work for free. This will take a lot of time and effort that we, as professional artists, do not have.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, and yesterday, May 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee did as well. This means the bill will be presented to Congress, likely before the end of May.

We need you to write to your representatives ASAP and let them know that you do NOT want this bill to be expedited, as it is now. Tell them we need a better solution, or tell them you don’t want it at all: Just be sure to tell them something soon. Click the links below to get more information on the bill:

Illustrators’ Partnership’s info on current Copyright Registration Instructions & Forms [I did not find this instructive, but you may]
Illustrators’ Partnership brief note on the previous Conyers bill [I did not find this instructive]
Americans for the Arts description of the bill [This was pretty interesting]
An update on the bill from the American Society of Media Photographers [This was kind of interesting]
A statement to the House Judiciary Committee from the ASMP [This was kind of interesting]

Click here for several options of pre-written and editable letters that you can fill out, and that will automatically identify and send it to your representatives when you enter your address.

Of course the links are to one side of the story–from people whose buttons were pushed by the contents of the bill. They may be right, but I simply don’t know.