Copyright can be enough of a problem when copyright claimants make unreasonable demands, but sometimes, it's even worse when you can't find the copyright holder at all. Documentaries dont get broadcast; books don't get published; films don't get restored; digital materials don't get archived, all because they use or incorporate works whose owners cant be traced, so there's no one from whom to seek permission. In many cases, orphan works are lost because no one can authorize their use.
The Copyright Office has opened a Notice of Inquiry on the problem of orphan works, requesting public comment on the scope of the problem and possible solutions. Many people submitted comments, and Kat Hanna and Stanford's Center for Internet & Society are working to get even more evidence into the record on reply. Reply comments are due May 9.
Theyve invited us to highlight comments from round 1 to get your creative juices flowing, so here's one from Daniel Callahan, discussing the problems orphanhood poses for those who want to enjoy or study comic book culture:
The comic book industry is usually perceived as composed of two
publishing entities: Marvel and DC Comics. However, there have been many
smaller companies over the last six decades who have entered the market
and later gone out of business.
As such, surviving copies of the titles they published are rare, and
their preservation as works of commercial art is dubious because of
existing copyright laws. Marvel and DC may easily publish a 'reprint'
volume, but a fan or entrepreneur who would like to scan in or republish
comics whose copyright holders cannot be located remains stymied.
A comprehensive preservation project of these works cannot be done
unless and until the status of orphan works is determined by your
office. Since many of these comics books were not printed on paper
designed to survive for decades, there a window of time in which this
preservation can be done. If the status quo remains, we will most likely
lose many books to decay or neglect.
If this sets you to thinking about ways you or others you know have been affected by the "orphan works" problem, head over to OrphanWorks.org, where we've made it easy to submit a reply comment.