Orphan Works

My friend Max Konardy called my attention to this today:


It is “Call for Action to Prevent Orphan Works Amendment to U.S. Copyright Law”

I don’t think I agree with what the Illustrator’s Partnership is saying, but I don’t know enough about the legislation to give a particularly educated view at this time.

However, I think copyright reform is essential. Much of our artistic history is being literally destroyed by the fact that no one has the right to legally reprint stuff when they can’t find who owns the rights to it. This is particularly apparent with old films, where the prints are literally falling apart rather than getting restored because nobody can be found who has the legal right to reprint them. If things don’t get kept in print, they get forgotten, or worse, they get destroyed. Same deal with old comics, as anyone who has pawed a crumbling golden age comic can attest to.

I tried at one point to find the rights holder to an old Fletcher Henderson song from 1932, “Take Me Away From the River,” that I wanted to use in a cartoon… I actually looked up the records in the Library of Congress when I was in DC… I got the record, but it gave me no information on how to contact the legitimate rights holders, if there were any. I went ahead and used it anyhow, but theoretically I could be sued for doing so. Should I not have used it since I couldn’t find the rights holders? Some of you may feel that way, but the way I see it, I’m doing a small part to rescue a great piece of music from utter obscurity.

However, that this could potentially be used as a loophole to steal work from legitimate copyright holders who are still around is troubling. As they point out, most people can not afford the legal fees (or the time) to potentially defend their works. I don’t think that is the intent of the proposed legislation, but if it is a potential side-effect, I certainly think steps should be taken to avoid this problem. As I said, I don’t know the details at this time… the Call to Action seems terribly one sided, though, and I definitely think the current system is deeply flawed.

Furthermore, the copyright extension legislation that has been persued by large corporations (such as the Sonny Bono Act, or “Mickey Mouse” law that extended copyright an additional 20 years and was basically purchased by Disney lobbyists to avoid having Mickey cartoons fall into the public domain) is theft of our culture from us to corporations. There is good reason for copyrights to expire… while an artist should have his work protected for a certain period of time, our artistic heritage should be owned by everyone…

otherwise it gets lost. Frankly, I’d rather have my art stick around than retain the rights to it forever… having copyright for a lifetime is plenty long, and it already extends for many (70?) years beyond that. Beyond death is too damn long I think… even if Disney is in cryrogenic suspension.

More info on this stuff here:


There is an interesting discussion on orphan works going on right now on the Comic Journal message board.


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