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September 7, 2005
Wal-Mart = Copyfighter?
Matthew Hirsch of the San Francisco Bay Guardian has a terrific piece on the recent orphan works roundtable hearings in Berkeley. It features familiar copyfighters Ren Bucholz and Joe Hall, and a not-so-familiar copyfighter named Joe Lisuzzo -- a representative from Wal-Mart Corporation.
Specifically, Lisuzzo and Wal-Mart are pushing the government to change the way it deals with "orphan works," which are described by the US Copyright Office as "copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate." Orphan works can be literally anything from an old film clip to a line of computer code to a haiku scribbled on the back of a napkin. As the law stands, anyone who wants to reproduce an orphan work or tweak it into some novel creation (à la sound collagists Negativland) has to hunt down the copyright holder for permission or risk getting sued.
Ren agitates for the Public Domain Enhancement Act (PDEA). Joe Hall wants to post a copy of an old, rare book on voting technology. Why did Wal-Mart get involved?
Well, not surprisingly, it's all about the Benjamins. Lisuzzo says the company is itching to make copies of old photos for customers but can't do so unless the customers can prove they own the rights to those pics. "We're in a situation as a retailer where we'd like to do nothing more than take their money, but we can't because of our policy and the law," Lisuzzo testified at the Berkeley hearing.
I'm no fan of Wal-Mart. But it's nice to see a company acknowledge that there are economic as well as cultural and social benefits to appropriately limiting the copyright monopoly grant.
MP3s and PDF transcripts of the proceedings are available here.
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