As many of you know, last month the US Copyright Office issued a notice
of inquiry about orphaned works - this from that notice's summary: "The
Copyright Office seeks to examine the issues raised by 'orphan works,'
i.e., copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to
locate. Concerns have been raised that the uncertainty surrounding
ownership of such works might needlessly discourage subsequent creators
and users from incorporating such works in new creative efforts or
making such works available to the public. This notice requests written
comments from all interested parties. Specifically, the Office is
seeking comments on whether there are compelling concerns raised by
orphan works that merit a legislative, regulatory or other solution, and
what type of solution could effectively address these concerns without
conflicting with the legitimate interests of authors and right holders."
Libraries and library organizations have responded to this call and just
yesterday I received the following from Jamie Boyle (Duke law professor,
who some of you will remember as the keynote speaker at the New York
City DLF Forum in Spring 2003):
"'Orphan Works' probably comprise the majority of the record of 20th
century culture and their orphan status means we have practically no
access to them. In all likelihood no copyright owner would appear to
object if one digitized an old book, restored an orphan film, or used an
obscure musical score. But who can afford to take the risk? The normal
response of archivists, libraries, film restorers, and artists is
generally to give up -- it is just not worth the hassle and risk. ...
Solution? Duke's Center for the Study for the Public Domain has
produced a report to the Copyright Office that offers one.
They interviewed artists and librarians and filmmakers about their
problems and they offer a proposal on how to fix the system."
If you are interested in this problem, and a set of clear suggestions
towards a solution, I highly recommend this well-constructed report.