Rescuing the Copyrighted Orphans

The majority of works offered for use with Logos Bible Software are modern, copyrighted books that we have licensed from authors and publishers. Typically these date from the 1980′s or later. Logos is also able to digitize and offer many public domain works, generally from before 1923.

There is a wealth of material from the middle years, though, that is out of print and hard to find in libraries, but which is still under copyright. When the publisher has gone out of business, or the author’s heirs are impossible to identify or locate, copyrighted works can become effectively orphaned. The chance that a copyright holder emerges after an orphaned work is republished may be slim, but when the statutory damages are $200,000 per infringement few publishers are willing to take a risk.

The US Copyright Office has been studying this problem and has proposed reasonable legislation that addresses the rights of copyright holders as well as the public good of continued use of orphaned content.

Below is a version of the letter I sent my elected representatives in support of the proposed legislation. I hope you will consider supporting it as well.

Dear Elected Representative,

Digital publishing, on CD-ROM’s and the Internet, is enabling us to make entire libraries of material available to students who previously had little or no access to valuable content. Students in distance learning programs, in rural areas, and in far-off parts of the world are using computers and the Internet to get access to content that previously could be found only in large libraries in major cities.

Projects like Google Print, and many others at universities and libraries, are putting the contents of irreplaceable, hard-to-access archives at the fingertips of students around the world.

There is a tremendous amount of information in the public domain, but many important works were published after 1923 and are now out of print. In many cases it is difficult to locate or even identify the owner. Publishers have gone out of business. Rights have reverted to heirs who have never heard of the copyrighted work. Titles were published without enough identifying information.

The Copyright Office issued a Report on Orphan Works in January of this year that recommends legislation providing for the use of orphaned works during their copyright period.

(http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/) The proposed statutory language addresses compensation for rights holders if they emerge, and provides safe harbor from huge infringement penalties to users who have made a diligent search to locate a copyright owner.

I encourage you to support this important proposal which advances the causes of commerce, education, and human knowledge.

Comments

  1. Bob — I wrote my US Rep David Wu about this issue and he responded with a letter agreeing with me about the need to address this issue and then referred to the Family Entertainment & Copyright Act (S167) enacted April 27, 2005. (The link for the Act is posted above). I can forward you a copy of the letter if you’d like to see it.
    His reference seemed to imply that this Act resolved this problem, but when I looked over the act BRIEFLY I’m left skeptical. It seems the law covers just video and movies! How do you see it? Am I missing something?
    As far as you know, the limbo status of Orphaned books has yet to be resolved, right?
    I’ll try again with the Congressman . . but as you might guess . . I won’t be holding my breath for a real response. David