As Congress winds down, it faces the usual barrage of last minute bills — including requests from the usual suspects in the IP Mafia to expand yet again the value of their copyright holdings (you can read bout the latest push in the lame duck session at Public Knowledge or the new public interest/industry coalition website Digital Freedom). But one piece of legislation deserves to pass, the Orphan Works Act of 2006. This legislation seeks to address the problem of works where one cannot determine who holds the rights.
How does this happen? In 1976, we moved from a regime where we required someone to register a work with the Copyright Office to get protection to one where where everything rendered in fixed form is protected. So if you fnd a work, you must assume it is still under copyright. Even if you can find a record of the rights holder at the copyright office or elsewhere, you may no longer be able to find the current holder of the right because that person has died or moved on without a forwarding address. And since copyright has been continuously extended, the work remains protected and therefore unusable.
So after much prodding, the Copyright Office recomended to Congress to pass a bill that allows someone to do a due dilligence search for the rights holder and set up an escrow account to put some of the profits from republishing the work if the rights holder shows up. This bill is resisted by some trade groups. You can read a good statement about the bill by Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn here.
In any event, the subject came up on a local science fiction list I’m on. A fellow by the name of Keith Lynch wrote an excellent little piece illustrating the value of the Orphan Works Act, which I reprint below with permission.
Stay tuned . . .