USCO Orphan Works Proposal Update
Of the more than 850 comments received by the Copyright Office, there was one
item of agreement -- artistic works exist that are difficult to use because their owners cannot be found. There is no easy answer to this problem -- no single solution could perfectly address every issue of photographers, songwriters, movie producers, authors, sculptors, etc. -- but the Copyright Office report strikes a very reasonable balance.
Jule Sigall, associate register for policy and international affairs, summed up the Copyright Office's approach for the subcommittee -- if a potential user performs a
reasonable search for the copyright owner, her liability should be limited if the owner
surfaces. To quote the report: "[i]f the user has performed a reasonably diligent search for the copyright owner but is unable to locate that owner, then that user should enjoy a benefit of limitation on the remedies that a copyright owner could obtain against him if the owner showed up at a later date and sued for infringement."
The three other witnesses Wednesday had questions around the edges of that proposal as did some of the subcommittee members. But even Representative Zoe Lofgren, who has legislation that backs a mandatory registry that was not adopted by the Copyright Office, said "we've made some progress today." All of the witnesses present Wednesday promised Chairman Smith that they would aim to have consensus on statutory language by the end of the month.
Smith indicated that he could have found a dozen other witnesses who would have had two dozen other gripes about the Copyright Office proposal. But after being
pored over by numerous interested parties on and off the Hill this year, the report's general overall philosophical approach has found very little vocal resistance. That doesn't mean there isn't resistance out there, however. Any legislative effort that seeks to find a balance between two parties will always have provisions opposed by those parties. Any limit on damages could draw the ire of copyright purists. Any burdens placed on end-users could cause an affront for advocates who put "culture" as they define it before the rights of artists.
But the orphan works issue is a clear case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.