Groups Praise Orphan Works Legislation Introduced In Senate and House
Groups Praise Orphan Works Legislation Introduced In Senate and House
Groups Praise Orphan Works Legislation Introduced In Senate and House

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    Public Knowledge, the Internet Archive, Association of Public Television Stations and the Association of Research Libraries joined today to praise the work of Senate and House legislators for introducing legislation that would allow for greater use of “orphan works.” Those are books, music, photos or other works for which the copyright holder can't be found by someone who wants to use the work in a way that normally would require permission.

    Works can become “orphaned” for a number of reasons: the owner did not register the work, the owner sold rights in the work and did not register the transfer, the owner died and his heirs cannot be found. The U.S. Copyright Office found in January, 2006 that that the “orphan works problem is real and warrants attention.”

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and former panel Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Senate's version, S. 2913. House Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), introduced his chamber's bill with Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), senior Committee Republican Lamar Smith (R-TX) and ranking Subcommittee member Howard Coble (R-NC).

    While there are differences between the bills, the two pieces of legislation generally follow the Copyright Office recommendation that if a user conducts a reasonably diligent search, they are generally free from high copyright infringement damages; if an owner surfaces, they are compensated for the use of their work. The bills also promote creation of industry guidelines for conducting searches to find owners and encourage use of technology through online databases and visual recognition methods.

    Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said that bills “begin to bring balance back to copyright law–finding owners to exploit works, encouraging use, promoting new creative uses of works. With these bills, much of our culture that would otherwise have been lost could be found and presented to new generations. We look forward to working with the committees to make certain the final legislation will allow users to have full access to the millions of works that have gone unused for decades.”

    Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to preserving a record of the Internet and to bring library materials to the Internet, also praised the legislation. “We appreciate that the bill sponsors provided a safe harbor for libraries and archives from penalties which have hindered our institutions from bringing digital access to millions of works, most of which are long out of print or never commercially sold.”

    “This legislation is an important step forward in addressing the critical issue of how Public Television stations can use orphan works in the Digital Era,” Association of Public Television Stations Acting President and CEO Mark Erstling said. “By making it easier for stations to use this content, often with deep historical meaning, Congress will enable us to create new high-quality, educational and cultural programming and services. Solving this problem will also assist us as we embark on the creation of the American Archive, an exciting new initiative to digitize and preserve the vast archives of public broadcasting content, and make it available to the American public. We look forward to working with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees as the process moves forward.”

    Prue Adler, Associate Executive Director of the Association of Research Libraries, said: “The library community is very encouraged by the introduction of these bills. Solving the orphan works problem is one of the library community's top legislative priorities. We look forward to working with both chambers to fashion an effective framework that will encourage socially productive uses of culturally and historically significant works whose copyright owners cannot be identified or located.”

    Members of the media may contact Communications Director Shiva Stella with inquiries, interview requests, or to join the Public Knowledge press list at or 405-249-9435.