Progress on Copyrighted Orphans

Earlier this year I posted about the Report on Orphan Works published by the Copyright Office. Orphan works represent a wealth of material that is still of great value, particularly in Biblical studies, but which is not widely available and can’t be reprinted or digitized because the copyright status, or copyright holder, is impossible to track down.

In May, Representative Lamar Smith introduced HR 5439, the Orphan Works Act of 2006, in Congress. If passed into law, this Act would provide safe harbor for Logos and others to republish orphaned works without fear of huge legal liabilities if a previously unidentifiable copyright holder came forward. It also provides for reasonable compensation for copyright holders who are found.

This is a win-win-win. It’s good for publishers who want to digitize or reprint older works. It’s good for the works, which get new life and more use. It’s even good for the copyright holders (many of whom are heirs who don’t know they own rights, or that they have any value) who may discover new revenue sources.

And most importantly, it’s good for you. It will put valuable, but hard-to-find, hard-to-use, resources at your fingertips.

Please let your representative know you support HR 5439.

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/)

H.R. 5439, the Orphan Works Act of 2006, 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 legislation which advances the causes of commerce, education, and human knowledge.

Comments

  1. Richard DeRuiter says:

    Done.
    However, I added to the front of your letter, immediately after the greeting, the following:
    “I’m writing to urge you to support HR 5439, the Orphan Works Act of 2006.”
    I believe it’s most helpful to let them (okay, let their staff) know right up front what you’re asking of them.

  2. Done! :)