This is an urgent message to anyone who creates, or has ever created anything visual... like artwork of any kind, illustration, photographs, sculpture, film, video, etc. There were "Orphan Works" bills introduced to the US Senate and House of Representatives on April 25, 2008 which if passed would radically affect existing US copyright laws. These bills are of great concern to many creative organizations, and we have been urged to spread the word, educate ourselves about the ramifications of this new legislation and take action.
After conducting my own research, I am convinced these bills create many more problems than they are attempting to solve, and would have a severe impact on our copyrights. Our works could be potentially used legally without our knowledge or permission unless they are "registered" with searchable databases. However the technical capability to store and search visual data doesn't yet exist, nor does any kind of visual registry. I personally have created probably thousands of pieces which I would have to find, catalog, scan and submit if I want to protect them from potential unauthorized usage, even the ones I have previously registered with the US Copyright Office. Also, penalties for improper usage if the creator of an image is not located would be virtually eliminated, making any image ripe for exploitation with little risk to the user.
Please, I urge you to conduct your own research on this issue, and act accordingly. Here are some links to get you started...
Library of Congress - search for "Orphan Works" and you can read the exact wording and a summary of the bills.
And in case you are interested (and still reading), here is an excerpt from the letters I wrote to my representatives in Washington. I struggled with how I wanted to express my position, and I hope it has some impact on the outcome:
In my opinion, this legislation would have an immense and negative impact on myself and those in the visual arts industry in two primary ways:
First, the direct impact would be to unfairly shift the burden of copyright registration and enforcement onto the artist. Currently an artist like me is automatically protected from any usage of an image unless they give consent. This new legislation would create a loophole by which any image could potentially be used without consent. Each individual image would be protected only if it is “registered,” even though a reliable vehicle for that registration doesn’t yet exist. I have created thousands of images for which I hold copyright, and it would be an overwhelming task for me to find, catalog, scan and register each of those images, and the cost would be a tremendous hardship. But without registration, it would be very difficult to connect me with many of my existing images, most of which were published uncredited, because illustrations commissioned for commercial usage generally do not include the artist’s name. If I overlooked or chose not to register any of my artworks for whatever reason, they would potentially be labeled “orphaned” and then legally used or sold without my knowledge or protection. There is also a danger that existing images could actually be registered by someone other than the creator, resulting in a huge quagmire of proof and documentation for the artist and the registry.
The second, and broader consequence of this legislation, would be to diminish the means by which commercial artists like myself earn our living, by increasingly reducing the need for new art to be commissioned. Entities that now have access to vast numbers of these orphaned works would make them available as “stock” or “clip” art. If an artist chances to see the use of one of his unregistered images, he would only be due a “fee” for that usage. No legal penalties for unauthorized use eliminates the risk of loss, and this would make the “mining” of orphaned images an attractive and profitable business model. The fact that the victims are generally isolated freelance artists makes it even less of a potential risk for these entities. We should be protecting artists’ creations instead of providing the opportunity to exploit them. The bottom line is that if someone wants to use an image they don’t own the rights to, or have permission to use, they shouldn’t be able to use it. Its unfair to whoever rightfully owns the copyright regardless of their situation, and is contrary to the spirit of creative ownership.
I understand the reasoning behind the development of this legislation, and I know that eventually there will be a way to solve the issues that it tries to address, but this bill does not successfully protect the rights of those who create images.
And that's it. Sorry to take over my normally cheery blog with this doomsday talk, but there is a lot of concern about this, and it merits some attention from those of us who would experience the negative consequences. Thanks for listening.
by the way... the illustration above... the copyright symbol with a slash through it... doesn't mean I am opposed to copyrights, but that I am concerned this bill threatens the spirit of creative copyright we all take for granted. I just wanted to make that clear.