What should be done about orphan works?

The results of the survey recently conducted on this weblog, published in tabular form here, indicate that respondents have little sympathy for the integrity of the copyright in a work if no-one can trace the identity of the copyright owner in order to ask permission to use it. Getting on for one-third of respondents felt that copyright should be treated as being abandoned where the copyright owner can't reasonably be traced, almost the same number of voters felt that the exclusionary right should be translated into a "right-to-use + duty-to-pay-if-caught" approach.

Of the rest, nearly 20% of respondents felt that there was no need to do anything about orphan works at all, given the low probability of anyone coming forward to object to unauthorised use or to demand payment for it. It's a bit like going for a walk in town and finding a small but useful item on the pavement: many people will feel quite comfortable about keeping it and we don't have any special laws to govern the fate of small but useful objects that you find on the pavement.

Left: typical response from a publisher on discovering that a genuinely verifiable copyright owner has just turned up on her doorstep and that he is looking for real satisfaction

Least popular of the options was that of setting up a state fund into which users of orphan works could make payments that would be put towards expenditure for the benefit of authors. Perhaps on account of its lack of support, its paternalistic attitude towards the arts and its conviction that this solution would cost it nothing, this is the approach that will be favoured by many governments.

The IPKat senses that this is not an issue upon which the IP world is about to tear itself apart. Merpel adds that, while patents are allowed to lapse and trade marks can be revoked for non-use, there's no apparent means of terminating an unregistered copyright once it comes into existence -- which means that the long-invisible copyright owner can always put in an unscheduled reappearance and give an unauthorised user a real surprise.
What should be done about orphan works? What should be done about orphan works? Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, September 06, 2007 Rating: 5

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