Orphan Works Bill Introduced
Orphan Works Bill Introduced
Orphan Works Bill Introduced

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    Late yesterday afternoon, Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chair of the House Subcommittee on Court, Internet and Intellectual Property introduced HR 5439, the Orphan Works Act of 2006. The bill, which seeks to limit liability for artists, educators and others who make a “reasonably diligent search” to find a copyright holder but cannot, is a significant improvement over the draft bill proposed by the Copyright Office in February. Here are some of the changes we like:

    • It prohibits injunctions when the user of an orphan work “recasts, transforms, adapts or integrates the [orphan] work with the [user's] original expression in a new work of authorship….” This ensures that the publication of transformative works that may include the entirety of an orphan work will not be able to be stopped by a court.

    • It requires the Copyright Office to make available information that will help users understand what might constitute a reasonably diligent search.

    • The bill makes clear that in determining the “reasonable compensation” an orphan works user must pay should the orphan works owner reappear, the owner has the burden of establishing the amount that a willing buyer and willing seller would have agreed to.

    • The bill eliminates a provision that would have required the rules to sunset after 5 years.

    While we would have preferred a cap on damages as opposed to “reasonable compensation,” it has been clear from the very beginning that such a change was a political non-starter. However, we would like a little more certainty that “reasonable compensation” will not lead to a great financial liability for the user. We'll be asking for some report language that makes it clearer that the monetary value of an orphan work, particularly one that has been out of circulation for a long time, is low, if not zero.

    We also would have liked the “safe harbor,” which prohibits any payment if a user immediately ceases using the orphan work when an owner reappears, to apply both to commercial and non-commercial uses. The concern here is that small artists who sell their works should be entitled to the same safe harbor as large museums and libraries. We understand that Congress members do not want to give this advantage to large users like Hollywood studios. We'll be working on language that seeks to protect small artists.

    This bill is on a fast track – it will be marked up by the Subcommittee this Wednesday. Stay tuned.