The Evils Of H.R. 5889, The Orphan Works Act of 2008
I’d like to urge readers of this blog to take a minute and do a little research on a bill that is currently being re-introduced (in a new, mutant form) in Congress that will directly impact the ability of creative professionals, freelancers in particular, to be properly compensated for their work.
“The Orphan Works Act of 2008” (H.R. 5889) sounds innocent enough on the surface. It proposes that “orphaned” artwork, work where no copyright holder can be “reasonably located” would be free for use by anyone who wishes to utilize it in any commercial venture. What makes it tricky is the language. What constitutes a “reasonable search” for the work’s creator? Ouija board? Divining rod? Darts at a page from the phone book? It’s already tough for creative professionals to make a living freelancing, giving unscrupulous publishers (or anyone) a loophole to get around paying for artwork will just be another kick in the gut.
Believe it or not, even a small-time hack like myself has had work swiped and used for other’s commercial gain. In most cases, the legal recourse is costlier than any payment you may eventually wrangle, so people get away with it. Giving these creeps a legal excuse, “Gee, I TRIED to find the artist,” is a bad, bad idea.
The bill doesn’t have any impact on existing copyright laws. It just widens the scope of what can be considered “orphaned” artwork. There’s tons of art out there (thanks to the good ol’ internet) whose creators are either long gone or no longer hold rights to the work. Some of it falls into the “public domain” arena. But, more often than not, there’s an artist out there that is getting ripped-off.
So, I’m asking you good people to look into it for yourselves, and if you agree it looks like bad legislation, call or write your representatives. It’s the American Way.