Monday, February 12, 2007
In January 2006 the US Copyright Office released the result of its inquiry into "orphan work":
"Many users of copyrighted works have indicated that the risk of liability for copyright infringement, however remote, is enough to prompt them not to make use of the work. Such an outcome is not in the public interest, particularly where the copyright owner is not locatable because he no longer exists or otherwise does not care to restrain the use of his work." (p. 1, here).
The report concludes (pp 92-93, here):
- The orphan works problem is real.
- The orphan works problem is elusive to quantify and describe comprehensively.
- Some orphan works situations may be addressed by existing copyright law, but many are not.
- Legislation is necessary to provide a meaningful solution to the orphan works problem as we know it today.
The report recommends that the issue of orphans works be addressed by amending the remedies section of the Copyright Act to limit the remedies available when infringement occurs after the copyright user has conducted a 'reasonably diligent search' to locate the copyright owner and the owner could not be located (see recommended statutory language p. 127, here).
Last year the Documentary Organisation of Canada suggested following the approach recommended by the US Copyright Office.
"While the Canadian provisions may have at one time been exemplary in comparison the lack of any such provisions in most countries, the Canadian solution now appears to be outmoded and even unworkable." (p. 25, here)
Professor Lawrence Lessig recently blogged about the US Copyright Office's report. Lessig applauds the content of the report, however disagrees with its recommendations (and the Orphan Works Act 2006- the Bill proposed as a result of the report). He criticises the recommendations for ‘going too far’ as well as ‘not going far enough.’ Lessig explains that if the recommendations are adopted they would overburden copyright owners and users. Formalisation of copyright has not had to occur in the
Lessig proposes an alternative system, which I find very impressive. He suggests that after 50 years copyright owners should be obligated to register their copyright interest. If registration does not occur then the work could either move into the public domain or the copyright owner could have curtailed rights. Such a registry would not be government run, rather there would be many registries competing with each other (keeping the cost of registration low) and such registries would have to comply with government protocols. Lessig recommends a phasing in period to give copyright owners an opportunity to register their interest.
He has prepared an excellent video about orphan works and his proposal- available here. I recommend you watch it if you have 35 minutes to spare. It is well structured and provides some valuable information (despite him saying it is an 'overly long, overly professorial explanation'). It also discussed the issue of applicability to works created outside of
What really appeals to me is the efficiency of his proposed system of registration (especially compared with the Canadian example). The proposal also makes it much easier for people to locate the owners of older works. We need a system like this especially in light of developments such as copyright term extension. Obviously there are a few loose ends to tie up- examples include:
- What dispute resolution mechanisms are in place in situations where two people claim ownership in the same work. Further, is it possible for the registration system to be exploited?
- When must you register the interest? (Anytime before 50 years? Anytime before copyright term expires?)
- What identifying information is placed in the registry (an actual copy of the work?). Photographs present a big problem- especially if there is limited identifying information available to you. If there is no title or creator- what is the next step? How can you be sure that this work isn't registered?
- If you find a work with no author or title and you don't know when the work was created- you will still be unable to use it- even if it isn't registered. This is because you don't know if the required period of time has expired. Granted you could wait 50 years. However, the system proposed by the US Copyright Office would not present the same obstacle.
These are just some examples. Many can be teased out. The proposal by Professor Lessig has great potential and is something that governments should take into serious consideration.
(Pictured: "A Copyright will Protect you from PIRATES", loan Sameli, available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 2.0.)
Update: The attached picture was apparantly published in The New York Clipper, November 03, 1906- the picture appears to be in the public domain [see comments for more info].
As a side note to this post, I seriously wonder whether the 'photo' you used from Flickr should really have a copyright -- even if it is CC-BY-SA. It looks suspiciously like something that the US Library of Congress would have in its archives, though I wasn't able to see it there after about 5minutes of searching. I'd say that the chances of this being a public domain work (at least in the US) are pretty high.
I imagine that perhaps within the worldwide context it is beneficial to have a licence even if the original work was in the public domain. My understanding is that in countries such as Australia the orginality threshold could be low enough to allow for the effort of taking a picture or digital transfer of an original image (even if an exact copy) is enough to qualify for copyright.
In this case, however, it appears from the image's poster's own comment that she did not have the rights to place it under a CC licence as she states that it was 'found' on her hard disk.
I managed to find the original with a Google Image Search: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/bobhope/images/vc36.jpg. Apparently, it was first published on November 3, 1906, in The New York Clipper.
After posting 'save the orphans!' I enlisted the help of my colleague Ben Bildstein to figure out the background of the attached photo/picture/literary work. If the information Ben found is accurate then you are correct, the work belongs in the public domain.
I doubt Australia's (albeit very low!) originality threshold is low enough to allow copyright to be asserted for uploading an image.
So clearly the individual uploading the image can't assert the rights embodied in the CC license they attached to the image (very innocently I imagine).
But I wonder- can this individual be forced to remove the license- and who can force removal?
Links to this post: