My friend Cat is working on her Scientific Illustration degree at the University of California Extension in Santa Cruz, and she recently sent me a link about the Orphan Works Act of 2008 (H.R.5889), introduced April 24, 2008. According to the Illustrators’ Partnership of America (IPA), this Act defines the term orphan work to mean:
“any copyrighted work whose author any infringer says he is unable to locate with what the infringer himself decides has been a ‘reasonably diligent search.'”
The IPA says:
“the bill has a disproportionate impact on visual artists because it is common for an artist’s work to be published without credit lines or because credit lines can be removed by others…”
Digital editing software makes this easy to do with any images available online. (Unless perhaps an application like copyright monkey can protect the image from being copied and edited?)
This Act will force visual artists to subsidize registries using image recognition technology, and register all of the images they wish to protect as their intellectual property, at considerable cost to the visual artist. According to the IPA:
“These databases would become one-stop shopping centers for infringers to search for royalty-free art. Any images not found in the registries could be considered orphans.”
Here is the U.S. Copyright Office’s information on Orphan Works. On the one hand, defining orphan works and allowing works to be declared “orphans” after performing due dilligence toward locating the creator will allow libraries, museums and archives to create digital copies of works to which access must otherwise be extremely limited–works that may be disintegrating and require digital preservation, or works that could be extremely valuable to globally dispersed information seekers, but cannot be digitized due to unknown intellectual property rights. My instinct is to support legislation that will facilitate preservation and increased access to valuable resources that are stuck in a legal limbo. But it appears that the legislation, as it stands, could create some significant problems for visual artists. Illustrators of children’s books are just one of the groups potentially impacted by this bill–a population in which I have some interest as a children’s-librarian-in-training.