Congress to make Online Artists into orphans

Orphan Works Act of 2008

Watch YouTube video

On April 24, Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Reps Howard Berman (D-CA), John Conyers (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced legislation (S.2913, HR 5889) which is now being referred to as the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. It is virtually the same bill that was presented in 2006, and subsequently rejected by Congress. But now, they are trying again.

If passed, the Act would radically alter copyright laws, taking away the automatic copyright now guaranteed to artists of all types who create any type of work. Right now, under U.S. law, artists are automatically guaranteed copyright on everything they create, from the sketches in their sketchpad to their best paintings and sculptures.

Under the Orphan Works Act, every creator will be required to register everything he or she creates in a private registry system, requiring a fee of course, and supposedly to make it easier for the "public" to search for works and contact the creators if they want to use the works for some purpose.

Everything created in the last 30 years will need to be registered through this as-yet nonexistent system, including those works already registered via additional fees with the copyright office. If they aren't, and some member of the public makes "due diligence" to find the creator of a work and can't find him or her, that member of the public is entitled to use the work without any limitations, and artists will have no legal recourse.

That means every piece of work artists have out there, especially online, would be open season for use by major publishing houses and businesses (Microsoft â€" who owns one of the largest online image databases â€" and Google have already voiced support for the bill and indicated they will use thousands of images) and everyone in between.

Proponents of the bill say it will assist the public in identifying and contacting creators of works and going through the proper channels to contact them to ask for permission. While we understand the need for an organized system of search, there are MAJOR FLAWS in the proposed bill that need to be addressed before any such proposal should take place.

Here are a few points:

Under this law, artists would need to register EVERY piece of work they create, including those works that you have already registered with the Copyright Office officially, in some system that does not exist and would likely require them to pay to do so. The time and cost to do this is going to be prohibitive for visual artists.

While this is meant to apply to all types of creative works, including music and literary, visual artists will be impacted the most because of the sheer volume of work they create, making it very expensive to register everything they have ever created or will create.

For the visual arts, there would still be little protection for them and their work, even if it is registered, because search tools would rely on names of artists or titles of work, and not image recognition tools, which are still in their infancy of development.

Under this law, if artists register their work, they would have to respond to EVERY inquiry sent to them for use of the work.

So in other words, if an artist has a work out there in a registry system, and some person contacts the artist and says he or she wants to use the artist's work for free on his or her Web site or in his or her new catalog, the artist would need to take the time to officially respond to every inquiry within a specified time limit, letting him or her know if the artist doe not want to have him or her publish the artist's work for free. This will take a lot of time and effort that professional artists do not have.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, and on May 15, the Senate Judiciary Committee did as well. This means the bill will be presented to Congress, likely before the end of May.

We need you to write to your representatives ASAP and let them know that you do NOT want this bill to be expedited, as it is now. Tell them we need a better solution, or tell them you don't want it at all: Just be sure to tell them something soon.

Click the links below to get more information on the bill, including a video that gives you a great overview of the artists' concerns:

watch YouTube video
government update PDF

Click below for several options of pre-written and editable letters that you can fill out, and that will automatically identify and send it to your representatives when you enter your address:

Illustrator Partnership

What does Congress understand about Art? Or about starving artists? Very little, but they certainly will be creating more of them with this travesty of a bill which I assume is meant to increase governmental revenue.

Anti-social boogers, imho.

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