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Orphaned Works legislation

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Grammar nazi
(and proud of it)

Joined: 05 May 2004
Posts: 13690
Location: Moo

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 10:01 am    Post subject: Orphaned Works legislation Reply with quote

Back in 2005 Congress studied an issue with copyrights known as "orphaned works" -- artistic creations in which the owner cannot be identified or contacted. Senator Lamar Smith of Texas drafted a bill called the "Orphan Works act" in 2006 which would have made it legal for anyone to use an "orphaned work" for any purpose (including sales) , provided that the copyright holder could not be identified or located after a search.

The bill was given to a committee and we haven't seen dot nor tittle of it since.

Until March 13th, 2008, when Congress held a hearing on the subject of "orphaned works". The talk is, they're going to propose some kind of orphaned-works legislation. The fear is, it could basically be the 2006 bill all over again.

No further details are available yet, so nobody jump to conclusions about what is or is not happening up on Capitol Hill.

It is already known that photographers and visual artists (online artists like us among them by default) oppose orphan-works legislation. This is because, at least how the 2006 bill was structured, "orphaned work" --> "public domain". It's not just easy for someone to remove or blot out identifying marks from an image, it's trivial: Few image-editing programs preserve identifying metadata (e.g. scanner or camera information) within an image, and even if it's obvious that an identifying mark has been blotched out or removed, once that tag is gone, it can be almost impossible to locate or contact the owner. You can search books by passage text or excerpts, but you can't search images by sight-recognition. So unless you already know and can recognize the owner when you see the work, possibly anyone could attempt to claim "orphaned works" rights over it; the Holland-Turner arguments given in comment to the 2006 bill are certainly valid.

So what can you do as a visual artist? Basically the same thing you should be doing already: Sign and watermark your works. Put your name or initials, and date somewhere on the original. Add a digital watermark layer containing your online handle, e-mail and/or gallery address to the image before you upload it; somewhere easily seen and identified, but not so easily removed. Thes are the tools we already use when investigating your common cases of online art theft, do what you can to identify and protect your works now, and don't worry the rest.
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