Sunday, March 25, 2007

Orphan Works, A Global Issue

For those outside the US who have been observing the intense debate over proposed Orphan Works legislation to change U.S. copyright law, the debate has now erupted in the UK as well in response to proposals made in the recently published report of The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property (pdf here)

This latest news should be a wake-up call that the challenges to protecting intellectual property are neither a US issue nor a UK issue, but a worldwide issue affecting all rights holders. As the British Journal of Photography puts it, proposed copyright legislation poses a fundamental threat to photographers “on both sides of the Atlantic.”

The Gowers Review was commissioned in late 2005 to address all elements of the UK intellectual property system. In 2006, SAA answered the Gowers Review Call for Evidence with a document that addressed the specific issue of Copyright – Orphan Works and offered alternative suggestions on how this problem could be overcome.

In their final report, the independent review has recommended that the UK adopt a similar policy to what U.S. Orphan Works legislation is proposing, namely that works can be used if the copyright owner cannot be found after a 'reasonable search'. The European Commission will make the final decision but as BAPLA’s Linda Royles told the BJP, “we are now looking at this as a damage limitation exercise, and we are looking at it with some concern.”

SAA’s Legal Chair, David Sanger explains the problem with the proposed U.S. legislation this way: “ Before the bill, orphan works in the US were largely thought of as an issue only affecting museums and large archives. This proposal would affect all artists, as any work – from dusty old prints to high-end advertising campaigns, could become orphan works. When we moved into the digital era, we became victims of an inadequacy of technology. There are no mechanisms in place to make sure that author information could be permanently fixed to the file. Now, as a result, there are naked files all over the place.”

SAA’s Metadata Manifesto addresses one essential component that’s needed to provide a solution – permanently embedded metadata in digital files. Another critical step is the development of resources to link “orphaned” images with their owners. The PLUS Coalition is developing a system of centralized registries designed to help potential image licensees locate and contact licensors and copyright owners.

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