House and Senate intellectual property policy leaders Thursday reintroduced legislation aimed at updating laws governing “orphan works,” copyrighted content whose owners cannot be easily identified.
A similar 2006 proposal died after it was incorporated into a larger package that attempted to streamline digital music licensing.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and House Judiciary Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman, D-Calif., sponsored the pair of bills, which would protect those who use images, music, and video after conducting unsuccessful searches for owners of the copyrighted material.
Under the bills, which contain slight differences, if copyright owners make themselves known and if users have performed a diligent search, owners would be entitled to reasonable compensation.
A user would not be liable for full statutory damages in those cases, but if a “good faith” search is not performed, they could face up to $150,000 in fines. A safe-harbor provision is included for libraries and archives.
The Association of American Publishers and others in the publishing field have pushed for congressional action for several years and Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters has championed the effort.
“Introduction of these bills is a monumental step toward crafting a meaningful solution to the orphan works problem and my office will do everything we can to support Congress in this goal,” she said Thursday.
Leahy stressed that his bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, does not create “a license to infringe” nor does it alter the basic premise of copyright law. “Too many valuable works are unused because their creators are unknown and potential users fear excessive liability,” Berman said in a release.
Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, ranking member Lamar Smith and Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property Subcommittee ranking member Howard Coble, R-N.C., co-sponsored the House bill.
Public Knowledge, the Association of Public Television Stations, the Association of Research Libraries and others praised the work on orphan works.
Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn said the bills “begin to bring balance back to copyright law,” adding that, “With these bills, much of our culture that would otherwise have been lost could be found and presented to new generations.”
Photographers and illustrators have opposed the changes. At a March hearing of Berman’s panel, American Society of Media Photographers General Counsel Victor Perlman said his members have limited resources to pursue unauthorized users of their work and they rely on revenue from licensing and selling prints.
A textile and home goods manufacturing official warned that changes to the law could make those products more susceptible to infringement.
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.