University Of Michigan Library Kicks Off Project To Identify All The Orphan Works In Its Collection

from the how-big-is-the-problem? dept

For years, we've seen attempts to create "orphan works" legislation to deal with a much bigger problem caused by the Copyright Act of 1976. Prior to that, when copyright required registration formalities, it was relatively easy to determine if something was covered by copyright and who likely controlled that copyright. After the 1976 Act went into effect, suddenly you had all sorts of works that were probably covered by copyright, but it wasn't always clear who had the copyright, and thus there was no real way to contact them. Many people concerned about this -- including many in the Copyright Office, who usually come down on the side of always ratcheting copyright up, rather than finding exceptions -- started pushing for an orphan works law, that would let people make use of works if they really couldn't find the original owner. Tragically, the photographer community spread a ton of misinformation about the orphan works proposals and scuttled the whole thing.

Of course, there is the flipside to the argument, which is that if we made such a huge mess thanks to the 1976 Act, perhaps we should look at rolling back that Act, or at least rolling back the "automatic copyright" provisions. But, of course, our copyright masters never see the point in admitting they might have gotten something wrong. So, the best interim issue is an orphan works law. Of course, to get that actually through, one of the big questions is how big of an impact do orphan works really have. Along those lines, the University of Michigan Library is kicking off a new project to identify all the orphan works it has in its collection, which sounds like it could take quite some time. However, it would be nice to see some data on just how many works today are technically under copyright, but whose copyright holder is unknown or can't be found. Having some actual data might help shift the debate forward, rather than trekking over the same myths yet again.
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Filed Under: copyright, library, orphan works, university of michigan


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2011 @ 10:42pm

    I think you mean the University of Michigan. Go blue!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2011 @ 10:58pm

    "But, of course, our copyright masters never see the point in admitting they might have gotten something wrong."

    95+ year copy protection lengths exist for perfectly legitimate reasons.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul`, 18 May 2011 @ 1:41am

    this quote sums up pretty much every piece covering copyright and trademark laws: The United States is a nation of laws; badly written and randomly enforced - Frank Zappa

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Doe, 18 May 2011 @ 5:32am

    I somewhat agree with the photographer community

    Tragically, the photographer community spread a ton of misinformation about the orphan works proposals and scuttled the whole thing.

    I like the idea on the surface but I can see the orphan works act being abused just like the copyright act. You come across a photo, remove the EXIF info and then claim you can't find the owner so it must be orphaned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sean T Henry (profile), 18 May 2011 @ 6:21am

      Re: I somewhat agree with the photographer community

      Thats an easy fix you just do not allow orphan images to be adopted leaving them orphans.

      Okay next problem.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2011 @ 7:44am

      Re: I somewhat agree with the photographer community

      Just removing the Exif data won't work. You would also have to go to the Copyright Office and ask them to do a search.

      The debate is kind of silly because most photographers (who sell images for a living) these days actually *do* register their photos with the Copyright Office (it's trivially easy to upload hundreds of photos through their web site). Now whether the CO will actually find your image if someone comes asking them about it is another story - I don't know how good they are at it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Nom du Clavier (profile), 18 May 2011 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: I somewhat agree with the photographer community

        There's a reverse image search engine called TinEye that's actually very good at finding the same image even if edited a bit. *

        The technology exists, it's just a question of whether or not the Copyright Office uses it.


        * And I'm in no way affiliated them. I could probably have dug up a paper on Arxiv detailing a similar algo, but I'm frankly too tired and this way you can verify it does what it says on the tin without reimplementing it from a paper.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Nom du Clavier (profile), 18 May 2011 @ 2:26pm

        Re: Re: I somewhat agree with the photographer community

        There's a reverse image search engine called TinEye that's actually very good at finding the same image even if edited a bit. *

        The technology exists, it's just a question of whether or not the Copyright Office uses it.


        * And I'm in no way affiliated them. I could probably have dug up a paper on Arxiv detailing a similar algo, but I'm frankly too tired and this way you can verify it does what it says on the tin without reimplementing it from a paper.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    trish, 18 May 2011 @ 9:09am

    expand copyright law like a lion, add exceptions like a lamb.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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