A little Parable on Orphan Works Reform

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 . . .

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DOJ — “Antitrust? What's That?”

The U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division approved the AT&T/BellSouth mereger without imposing any conditions. By law, the DOJ Antitrust division has no obligation to explain its decision to take no action. Nevertheless, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Barnett did issue a statement explaining the decision to take no action. Apparently, the market has gotten so much more competitive since the DOJ imposed (albeit wussy) conditions last year on the Verizon/MCI merger and SBC/AT&T merger last year that DOJ can’t imagine why this merger might be anticompetitive.

We now bounce over to the FCC, where Kevin Martin has placed approval of the AT&T/BellSouth on the agenda for tomorrow’s FCC meeting. But will the meeting take place? Can Martin get the merger through without conditions? And why didn’t DOJ at least pretend to care and enter into some wussy conditions — rather than just roll over like a good little industry lap dog begging for treats?

Some guesses below . . . .

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Independent Artists Losing an Independent Internet

Parul Desai, my colleague at Media Access Project, has written an article about the impact of network neutrality for Voxunion.com. The article talks about how independent artists will suffer if we lose the fight on network neutrality and therefore lose the Internet as an open, neutral platform for independent artists to distribute their work.

Parul knows whereof she speaks. Not only is she one of the kick-ass attorneys at MAP (“Kicking ass for the public interest for almost 35 years”), but she is one of the founders and co-owners Propa Gandaz Music Group, an independent record label.

UPDATE 6/13/06 — Jenny Toomey and Michael Bracy of the Future of Music Coalition have now written this excellent opinion piece on the same theme.

Stay tuned . . .

A Win in Florida

According to my friends at Free Press, the forces of municipal broadband won a major victory in Florida. Following a nasty legislative fight in the heart of Bell South territory, the Republican dominated legislature saw fit to impose only one condition on municipal broadband — annual reports.

Score since PA: Public interest- 3, Incumbents-0, Tie-1 (WV, where positive legislation was neutralized)

Stay tuned . . . .

A brief personal observation on the pay gap

New census data indicates that, on average, white men with a four year degree earned, on average, more than any other catagory. Women generally earned less than men, but white women earned less than black and asian women (and slightly more than hispanic women). No one is sure why this is the case.

What’s odd is that that last night I was having a conversation with my wife which has some relevance on this. While one anecdote is hardly the basis for public policy, I’d be interested in knowing whether any of the xtant research has explored this issue . . .

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