Commentary

So they're orphans: does that warrant exploitation?

What happens to the poor little copyrights no one cares about anymore? According to the law, they’re orphaned (strangely enough) and the US Copyright Office thinks they’re becoming a problem.

Because copyrights extend through the duration of the author’s life, plus 70 years, copyrights can trade heirs and companies so many times that the actual owners sometimes have no idea what they have. Investigating ownership can be expensive and unproductive, so there has been a movement lately to make these orphaned copyrights available via online databases for public use. If the actual owners find out and sue, the online archive providers cannot defend themselves. Rightly so, I think.

Does anyone else see a problem with freely placing these copyrighted materials in the public domain? Last time I checked, copyrights exist to protect against this kind of unfair use by others; just because someone is less likely to be sued while exploiting these copyrights doesn’t mean they have the right to do so. How could one legally draw up policy to allow this kind of use? How many times would a copyright have to change hands before it could be included on these sites? I am completely on board with the idea of placing written pieces online, but it has to be done so that the original authors receive remuneration for their work.

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3 comments about "So they're orphans: does that warrant exploitation?".
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  1. Troy Davis, January 14, 2008 at 11:04 a.m.

    The answer is to shorten the copyright term.

    Sonny Bono's Mickey Mouse Protection Act stretched copyright terms to ridiculous lengths: The author's life + 70 years, or for works of corporate authorship, 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first.

    This is no longer a system intended to protect people from infringement of their works, it's an entitlement program which primarily benefits a few corporations long after the deaths or buyouts of the original authors.

    In this way, the copyright cartel has progressively become something akin to a landed aristocracy. If a company owns the rights to something that's still worth significant value, somebody in Congress will prevent the copyright from expiring so long as the campaign contributions keep coming in. It's just like inheritance, but without the inheritance taxes.

  2. Franz Neumeier, January 15, 2008 at 10:36 a.m.

    There is an other aspect and I say:: It's a great idea to make content public domain when nobody does care about this content any more.
    There are great books that are out of print for 30 years, there is music from bands that split up decades ago and don't care about these old songs etc.
    Even if you're lucky and find the actual copyright holder, he doesn't even answer your requests for licensing them to you, most likely because he simply doesn't care. But as long as you don't have this "I don't care" in a written letter from the copyright holder, for sure there will be a laywer suing you as soon as you use this content without permission, even if it's non-commercial just to make it available for the public again. after so many years.
    Shouldn't there be a chance to make this type of content legally available for the public?

  3. Mark Groves, January 15, 2008 at 5:26 p.m.

    Strike a balance between the two: Allow "publication" of the orphaned content, but the publisher is allowed to make absolutely no monetary gain, whatsoever, in that publication. No remuneration for publication fees, no monetary recompense for any efforts involved in sharing these "lost gems."

    Suddenly these companies wouldn't care at all about republishing this content. They're searching for free sources of income, off the back of something someone else created. If it's important to them, wait the 70 years until the copyright runs out (and which of these companies are looking for that long-term of a venture?), or offer ridiculous amounts of money to whomever is alive and holding the copyright, so that perhaps they "care" again.

    I read these excerpts, and all I see is corporations trying to exersize virtual eminent domain. They'll condemn intellectual properties, and steal them for their own capitalization. It sickens me.

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