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Orphan Works Bill Receives Attention


Congress is considering a bill that would affect the disposition of orphan works, those images whose copyright owners may be impossible to identify and locate. Early this year, the Copyright Office completed its study of problems related to these works and presented its findings to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The study was in response to concerns that uncertainty surrounding ownership might discourage subsequent creators and users from incorporating such works in new creative efforts, or from making such works available to the public.

The office's 133-page report recommended the passage of legislation to address the issue and proposed an amendment to Chapter 5 of the Copyright Act regarding copyright infringement and remedies. Under the proposal, a potential user who has performed a reasonably diligent, but unsuccessful, search for the copyright owner can enjoy a benefit of limitations on the remedies that a copyright owner could obtain against the user if the owner showed up at a later date and sued for infringement.

The American Society of Media Photographers spoke out against the proposed bill, calling it a disaster for photographers. "Orphan works" is a misleading phrase that diminishes the extent of the problem, ASMP noted. For independent photographers and illustrators, whose work typically is published without copyright notice or credit, the majority of published images may be designated orphan works. The society also questioned the definition of a "diligent" search.

More information is available on the ASMP website, as well as at senate.gov.