Tuesday, May 20, 2008

(Near-Indefinite) Copyrights And Orphan Works

Congress created a problem with it's succession of bills extending copyright protection - something that it will likely continue to do such that certain works never come out of copyright. Now it proposes making it easy for the same monied interests that profit from those copyright extensions to ignore the copyrights of may of the less famous and less monied. Lawrence Lessig explains:
Congress is considering a major reform of copyright law intended to solve the problem of “orphan works” — those works whose owner cannot be found. This “reform” would be an amazingly onerous and inefficient change, which would unfairly and unnecessarily burden copyright holders with little return to the public.
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The bill would excuse copyright infringers from significant damages if they can prove that they made a “diligent effort” to find the copyright owner. A “diligent effort” is defined as one that is “reasonable and appropriate,” as determined by a set of “best practices” maintained by the government.
You know, a better solution might be to return to historic practice, and shorten the duration of copyright protection. Were orphan works a serious problem before Congress decided that copyright protections should be, if the legislative trend continues, one day short of indefinite?

Lessig's alternative, which is far more politically realistic:
Congress could easily address the problem of orphan works in a manner that is efficient and not unfair to current or foreign copyright owners. Following the model of patent law, Congress should require a copyright owner to register a work after an initial and generous term of automatic and full protection.
That's perfectly reasonable, but it might necessitate the monied interests to pay for works that they might get for free under the proposed legislation. So....

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