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Wednesday, February 21, 2007


New Literature on Creative Commons and Orphan Works

I've been away from the House of Commons for a while, but it's good to be back with my housemates Ben and Abi. It's also been good to come back and have a read of some of the new literature that's been emerging about the issues we discuss on this blog. I just wanted to highlight two papers that are worth a read and are accessible via the Australian Copyright Council's website. Both are by Ian McDonald, a Senior Legal Officer at the Copyright Council, and can be found either here or in the Copyright Reporter.

The first is "Some Thoughts on Orphan Works", an issue that's been discussed on our blog quite a lot in the past. McDonald gives a very comprehensive overview of what's been going on to address the orphan works issue both in Australia and overseas. This article also appears in the October 2006 issue of the Copyright Reporter. (Yes, I know there's a lapse between the release of this article and my blogging about it, but everything from about September last year passed by in a blur due to the Copyright Amendment Act!)

The second is titled "Creative Commons: Just Say 'CC'?" In this article, McDonald covers some of the criticisms of the Creative Commons licensing regime that he's discussed in the past and have also been raised a few times by Niva Elkin-Koren and Kim Weatherall in similar papers. This article was in the December 2006 issue of the Copyright Reporter.

I'm really enjoying writing my thesis on the copyright commons but covering all the relevant literature certainly keeps me busy!

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Monday, February 19, 2007


Save the Orphans!- Part II

Professor Lessig's response to comments/debate surrounding his (first) post about orphan works.

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Monday, February 12, 2007


Save the Orphans!

‘Orphan works’ is a term used to describe works where the owner of the copyright cannot be located. Orphans works are problematic because works can remain unpreserved and unused- and nothing much can be done without locating the owner. The older the material- the more difficult this process is (one of the many problems with copyright term extension). The issue of how to tackle this problem has not been satisfactorily addressed in many countries- including America and Australia.

Canada addressed the issue by allowing the Copyright Board of Canada to issue licenses on behalf of copyright owners in cases where the owner cannot be located. The Australian Copyright Council has recommended adopting a similar approach in its response to the issues paper on fair use (June 2005). However, the approach has been criticised due to the "unpredictability, delay and transactional expense inherent in the current system in Canada that requires a ruling from the Copyright Board" (source).

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 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 US since 1976. Copyright owners may have made themselves more locatable if they knew they risked losing control of work if they did not. Immediate implementation of the changes recommended by the US Copyright Office would be unfair to copyright owners. Further, copyright users are obliged to conduct a 'reasonably diligent search.' Such an approach imposes costly obligations on the copyright user. Lessig feels that such a system would be inefficient (on top of an already inefficient copyright system) and increase lawyer involvement (therefore costs).

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 America.

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:

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].

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