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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  1. identicon
    trish, 18 May 2011 @ 9:09am

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

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