There’s a new Orphan Works Bill in Town

As always, there’s good news and bad news.

There’s an immense amount of erroneous information about the new orphan works bill, primarily from certain people who are worried about their livelihoods. I don’t at all begrudge someone being concerned about their livelihoods. There are definitely some legitimate concerns about the course such a bill could take. I do begrudge hyperbole and poor analysis and the spreading of such information without any attempt at verification. I’m also not entirely happy with some interpretations of copyright law I’ve seen that misconstrue the purpose of copyright and that are flat-out wrong about how existing copyright law works, especially in the international context. That’s more understandable though, since it’s confusing. 😛

It’s not all bad, though. Although the blog world seems to have a lot of the negative talk, there are actually some civil discussions going on from and amongst these same groups.

The bill isn’t intended to be anti-artist. It’s not part of a scheme by the corporate overloads to make more money. It’s not about the government attempting to censor artists. It’s not “a license to steal.” It doesn’t reinstate registration requirement for artists. I find it fascinating that people are making all kinds of allegations about the bill when they haven’t read any version of the proposal- they’re pretty much responding to the initial messages and articles that were sent out by certain individuals and groups.

All I’m really asking is that you read the text of the bill yourself when you have the opportunity, make legitimate criticisms public, and if you think the bill isn’t satisfactory, attempt to come to a solution of the orphan works problem. Because the orphan works problem is not getting any better. That’s actually something a lot of people agree on, artists, educators, librarians, etc. alike. Reading the bills is rarely fun, but if you’re going to share an opinion, please make it an informed one. 😛

You can find pdfs of the current round of Orphan Works legislation at Public Knowledge.

Orphan works are a problem. To quote Georgia Harper

Orphan works are one of the biggest challenges we face today. These are works that are destined never to see the light of digital day unless we find a way to get them online while making reasonable efforts to protect the interests of their owners. The time when obscurity was the only option for non-economically viable works is over. We need to find ways to get on with it.

For a decent introduction to some of the issues, check out the U.S. Copyright Office’s page on orphan works. Most creative works in existence are orphan works. They’re not the ones that are making people’s livelihoods. They’re the ones people are concerned about.

Part of the issue about history, and the preservation and conservation that is necessary to maintain the cultural record. It is very, very difficult for archives, libraries, and museums to preserve certain types of materials in a usable form- particularly when they’re dealing with digital works. The proposed law provides such institutions with some protections for using orphan works. And guess what? People who work at libraries, archives, and museums are not out to destroy art or artists. Far from it.

Part of the issue is about education. We deal with these orphaned materials on a daily basis at the iSchool, and we’re heavily constrained in what we can do with them. Other departments face similar issues, although I suspect the impact on us is a bit stronger because of digitization curriculum. I might be wrong there, though.

In the text at least one version of the bill, users of orphan works also have to register their intent to use such orphan works, and also mark the use in a way that identifies the work as used as an orphan work. Furthermore, people cannot simply find an unmarked image and declare that worked orphaned. Additionally, people do have to make a reasonable search in order to use the work at all. In the case where the creator is found, there are provisions for the creator to receive payment. And woe betide the person who acts in bad faith (whom are what most of those who are maligning the bill are worried about). We all worry about bad actors.

There are burdens all around, but it’s a start.

Yet more reasons to respect Neil Gaiman

http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/04/fair-use-and-other-things.html

Neil Gaiman comments on the Rowling Lexicon case, fair use, and the nature of creation. Plus, he’s heavily involved with the Comic Book Defense Fund.

Lots of emails from people asking me to comment on the JK Rowling/ Steve Vander Ark copyright case. My main reaction is, having read as much as I can about it, given the copyright grey zone it seems to exist in, is a “Well, if it was me, I’d probably be flattered”, but that obviously isn’t how J.K. Rowling feels. I can’t imagine myself trying to stop any of the unauthorised books that have come out about me or about things I’ve created over the years, and where possible I’ve tried to help, and even when I haven’t liked them I’ve shrugged and let it go.

He follows up here:
http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/04/few-final-copyright-thoughts-before-we.html

and he makes a lot of great points.