So it looks like we might get an orphan works bill after all. Finally.
I’ve been interested in the orphan works problem since my first year of grad school, when I gave a presentation about it in my copyright class. This was right around the last time it looked like we might get an Orphan Works bill, and I remember checking the Copyright Office website every week to make sure I hadn’t missed anything good. Three years later, still nothing. It has been a real lesson for me in the excruciatingly slow pace of lawmaking.
First there was the recognition that orphan works were a problem that was only going to get worse. That happened when? Shortly after the Sonny Bono Let’s Extend Copyright Terms Again Because Almost Infinity Isn’t Long Enough Act in 1998? Earlier? Then Eric Eldred filed his complaint in 1999, and the Eldred v. Ashcroft verdict was finally handed down in 2002. Three years passed before the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry in 2005. Then the Orphan Works Act of 2006 went nowhere. Now it’s 2008, and the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property held a hearing.
Here’s hoping something comes of it. Photographers and illustrators have been objecting strongly to all orphan works legislation, and I think they have some legitimate concerns about the ease with which their works can be separated from their names, but that doesn’t mean a reasonable orphan works bill wouldn’t have a tremendous public benefit overall. It’s long overdue.
[Update: I’ve written a follow up to this post, here]