Archive:Orphan works RFC

(Redirected from Orphan works RFC)
Jump to: navigation, search

If you're looking for FC.o's orphan works comment, see Orphan works.

Web site

What text do we want to include?

First drafts

Amanda's Web site text

A Golden Opportunity to Speak Up

Have you ever heard of "orphan works"? It sounds like a phrase from a Charles Dickens story, but it's actually a vital issue for the future of creativity. Just ask anybody who has ever tried to track down the copyright owner for a book, photo, song, or other material. Because there is no mandatory place to register copyrights (as well as other reasons?), finding long-lost -- or long-dead -- owners can place a giant, expensive burden on new creativity. This legal roadblock creates a drag on new innovation and business, slowing or even stopping new works from being made.

Luckily, we have a great opportunity to improve the system. The Copyright Office has issued an official request for comment on the subject of orphan works. In other words: our government has explicitly asked for our help.

Please comment today! Whether you are familiar with copyright issues or just a concerned citizen, your perspective is valuable. Indeed, recent history shows that government agencies respond to citizen comments. (footnote to NOAA, USDA stories? maybe a one sentence reference)

Here's the official text, interspersed with our plain-English intrepretation:

The U.S. Copyright Office seeks to examine the issues raised by "orphan works," i.e., copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate.

Remember, "copyrighted works" doesn't just mean books you find in a bookstore or CDs you buy from a music store. For almost 30 years, every letter, memo, grocery list, and napkin scribble has been automatically copyrighted as soon as a person writes it down. But no organization tracks all of these copyrighted works. So we don't know whether their authors are alive or dead, or if the rights have been passed on to other people.

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.

In other words, if you can't figure out who owns a photo, you won't use it in your own website montage or for your own book jacket. Which would be a shame, because the photographer might be delighted (or might have been dead for 30 years).

This notice requests written comments from all interested parties.

Anybody is welcome to send a note (e-mail or snail mail) to the Copyright Office in response to this Request for Comment. You don't have to be an expert.

Specifically, the Office is seeking comments on whether there are compelling concerns raised by orphan works that merit a legislative, regulatory or other solution,

Is this really a problem for people? If so, can it be solved by Congress (through legislation), or the Copyright Office (through regulation) or some other way?

and what type of solution could effectively address these concerns without conflicting with the legitimate interests of authors and right holders.

How can we solve this problem without putting new unreasonable burdens on the creators of artistic works?

We need to hurry -- comments are due by March 25, 2005. Just follow these three easy steps to submit your comment by e-mail:

  • Step 1: Write Comment
  • Step 2: Confirm Email
  • Step 3: Done!

Amanda's blog post

Speak up for Copyright Orphans!

Imagine if you could not use the color red [the color red was outlawed.] Does that sound absurd? It's one way that you can interpret today's copyright law. Under our laws, creators are like painters whose palettes can be [are] limited to a very narrow range of colors. In this case, the "colors" are creative works from the past.

Thousands and thousands of books, movies, and songs [TV shows] what about music? created over the last 80 years/century COULD be available to the public to view, adapt, and enjoy...but instead they're stuck in legal limbo. In most cases, the law says you can't use these works without permission of the copyright owner, but how do you get permission if you don't know who to ask?

  • Copyright is automatic -- Registration is not required
  • Even anonymous works are copyrighted -- How can you find the person if it is completely unsigned?
  • Many copyright owners have moved, changed their names, or died
  • Many copyrights have changed hands -- through inheritance, corporate buyouts, or other means
  • Tracing copyright often means hiring an expensive lawyer, or going through an extended search through the Library of Congress.

Creating a simple, easy way for members of the public to check the status of orphan works would add many, many currently unavailable [illegal] colors to our palettes. In fact, since works are automatically copyrighted, no one even knows how many are out there. This could mean the difference between painting without red...and painting in crimson, scarlet, pink, and fuschia.

So drop a line to the Copyright Office today. Tell them how much you care about fixing this problem. And if you have a brainstorm about HOW to fix it (i.e., what kind of system [lookup] you'd like to see), tell them that too. They have several potential solutions proposed on their site. Perhaps we should link to that here?

Ordinary People Can AND HAVE Used Their Power to Affect Government Policies

Example 1: In 1998, the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded to an avalanche of more than 275,000 commments on its proposed definition for "organic" food by substantially rewriting the regulation.

"I do want to point out that the fact that we are once again announcing a proposed rule on national organic standards is a living example of our democracy at work. The people spoke very loudly... It's a well known fact that we received an unprecedented 275,603 comments during the first go round.... " - Dan Glickman, Secretary of US Department of Agriculture, March 7, 2000.

Example 2: In 2004, the National Weather Service responded to over 1400 comments on its proposed policy on the distribution of weather and climate information, forecasts, and warnings to the public. Recognizing that the agency needed to move away from its restrictive format, the NWS formally adopted [open standards? how do we phrase this?]. It was noted that the use of Extensible Markup Language (XML) and other open standards lowers the barriers to entry in the commercial marketplace, as had been pointed out out in a comment to the NWS from the Center for Democracy and Technology. [I'm not sure whether we need this much information on these examples. Perhaps we should just stick with one example or give a shorter summary of each.

Bottom line: Someone IS reading your comments! So e-mail now to make sure your voice is heard.


Some places to get some info/ideas from


These are people we've made contact with to ask their input or encourage them to comment. Please include your name and the date you contacted them. Underneath, include the status.

Seeking comment

  • Tess Taylor, president, Nat'l Assoc. of Record Industry Professionals
    • 29 Jan, Gavin
    • 16 Feb: Thanks for following up with this, I'm definitely getting more involved in this and thanks for bringing the open comment period to my attention. I have plenty of comments!
  • Tom Cotter, professor of law, UFlorida
    • 29 Jan, Gavin
    • 7 Feb: no reply
  • Gerald Haskins, professor of computing, UFlorida, Florida FC faculty advisor
    • 29 Jan, Gavin
    • 7 Feb: no reply

To contact

Who should we contact?

  • Local
    • Professors: law, film, art, library science, literature, computer science...
    • Librarians
    • Send out an e-mail to your local FC mailing list
  • Home of the Underdogs might be a good place. They host abandonware -- "orphan" computer software. Their site is CC licensed and bears EFF and Firefox banners, so they're probably friendly. And they certainly would have experience on the subject.
  • Everyone who has emailed freedom@fc.o over the past few months

Announcing the Web site


To comment

Can't be bothered to comment in these places yet, but we should -- after doing it, move it up, SVP.


When we blog the orphan works site, let's trackback as many related stories as possible. This is another way of getting the site in front of other people, and (may) improve our search engine rankings. (Commenting probably won't affect our position on search engines thanks to the rel=nofollow fix for blog comments, but Trackback may not be affected.) Add sites to Trackback here: