In Berne Convention, Copyright, Copyright Act, H.R. 5889, H.R. 5889 Amendments, Orphan Rights, Orphan Works, S. 2913, Small Business Administration, TRIPS

The following statements about the Orphan Works Act were sent from the House Judiciary Committee to a Congressman. The Congressman asked for responses from visual artists. The language in the statements is quoted verbatim from the Judiciary Committee document.

Judiciary Committee: An infringement today will continue to be one after enactment of orphan works legislation. Critics of orphan works measures frequently seem to miss this point, often wrongly suggesting that an orphan works law will legitimize infringing acts.

Illustrators’ Partnership: No one is missing the point. Under this bill, infringements may continue to be infringements, but millions will be infringements in name only. That’s because these bills would remove any effective remedy for the infringement whenever the infringer can successfully assert an orphan works defense. The defense need not be valid, only successful. That means we’ll see millions of so-called “good faith” infringements, among which bad actors will be able to hide like needles in a haystack.

What bad actor, if caught, will have a Perry Mason Moment and admit he’s guilty of willful infringement? Not if he can assert an orphan works defense and dare the artist to sue. And under this bill, any artist who sues will have to be sure of winning, because without the possibility of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees, it’ll be too expensive to lose. Since lawyers will be unwilling to accept such cases on contingency (because there’s no guarantee the infringer will have to pay), this law will effectively deprive rights holders of legal counsel, expert witnesses, court costs, etc. – the very tools they’d need to legally prove bad faith.

Judiciary Committee: Orphan works proposals are tailored to address the remedies that will be available under certain prescribed circumstances. In an instance where a good faith user has performed and documented a qualifying search and satisfied each of the other statutory conditions (i.e. filed a notice of use with the Copyright Office, placed an orphan notice on their use, etc.) the user will ordinarily be subject to the payment of reasonable compensation to the owner of the orphaned work if that owner is later identified.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Note the key phrase: “if that owner is later identified.” Infringements can occur anytime, anywhere in the world, so most will never be discovered by rights holders. This undermines the case for “reasonable compensation,” because compensation can’t be reasonable if it’s never paid.

Judiciary Committee: Reasonable compensation is intended to reflect the amount a willing buyer and willing seller would have negotiated for a licensed use prior to the infringement. Contrary to popular criticism, [reasonable compensation] is not an amount that must be accepted by an owner that is dictated by the user after infringement.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Several points:

  • Since orphan works transactions will occur only after infringement, the copyright owner will have no leverage to bargain for more than the infringer is willing or able to pay.
  • Unless the owner accepts the infringer’s offer, he’ll have to go to federal court.
  • If the court accepts the infringer’s claim that the infringer made a reasonably diligent effort to find the owner,
  • Then it becomes the owner’s burden to prove the market value of his work; but
  • To prove this, the owner will have to prepare a legal case with expert witnesses;
  • These are expenses the owner will not be able to recover from the infringer.
  • Filing fees, legal expenses and court costs could well exceed the so-called “reasonable fee.”
  • And now the Catch 22:
  • There’d be no limit to the amount of damages and legal fees the infringer could get from the owner in a countersuit.

Judiciary Committee: [Reasonable compensation] is intended to approximate the results of a market-place negotiation. In many cases, reasonable compensation will approximate the amount a copyright owner would have received as actual damages. The amount may also approximate the amount of statutory damages that would have been awarded by a court.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Regardless of whatever the bill is “intended” to do, these intentions are unlikely to translate so cleanly into the rough and tumble of the marketplace. In real life, it’s safe to assume that serial infringers of orphan works will establish low “reasonable” fees, which will effectively become the legal standard for “reasonable compensation” in lawsuits regarding orphan work uses. Artists might never agree to these low fees if contacted “prior to infringement,” but they’d have no choice but to accept them if “offered” after the fact.

Judiciary Committee: The House bill requires that the user of an orphan work engaged in a qualified search to identify the owner prior to and proximate to the use; that the search was properly documented; that a notice of use was filed with the Copyright Office; that detailed best practices to be promulgated by the Copyright Office for conducting such a search were followed; or that an orphan works symbol was placed on the infringing use.

Illustrators’ Partnership: These provisions are of no use to a rights holder unless he goes to court. And as business people, we make our livings from voluntary business transactions, not expensive lawsuits with all the uncertainty that comes with them.

In fact, uncertainty in commercial markets will be this bill’s chief legacy. The language of the drafts defines an infringer’s “qualifying search” as one that is reasonably diligent. But reasonable diligence is never defined. The Copyright Office has said that these ambiguous terms will be left to the courts to define on a case-by-case basis. But since any work might become an orphan in one legal proceeding and not in another, it’ll take a decade of expensive lawsuits and appeals to learn how the law will ultimately define these vague terms. Since artists are unlikely to have the resources for litigation, infringers may generally win by default. Why should copyright owners have to go to court on a regular basis to contest the diligence of an infringer’s search or to prove the value of their own property for uses they never authorized?

Judiciary Committee: As an explicit measure to discourage malicious actors who might seek to exploit the orphan works limitation in furtherance of commercial piracy, the House bill was expressly amended to prohibit the limitation from being used in connection with the production of useful articles (i.e. coffee mugs, wallpaper, rugs, clothing, etc.). So the [use of art on a] coffee mug [for] example is expressly prohibited by the House bill even in a circumstance where the user theoretically sought to meet the aforementioned statutory pre-conditions.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Commercial piracy is not limited to rip-offs of art on “useful articles.” If the bill’s drafters have exempted designs for coffee mugs, wallpaper, rugs and clothing, then they’ve conceded that the bill will lead to the piracy of visual art. Having acknowledged that, why would they permit other forms of art to be pirated? Are designs on coffee mugs more deserving of protection than medical illustrations, editorial cartoons, news photos, book illustrations, advertising art, fine art?

Judiciary Committee: There is no present requirement for an author to register their work or place a copyright notice on it to qualify for the protection of U.S. copyright law. It is false that registration will become mandatory after the enactment of orphan works legislation. There is nothing in either the House or Senate versions of the bills that will require copyright owners to register their works or place copyright notices on them to enjoy copyright protection.

Illustrators’ Partnership: That’s because Congress cannot ”require” artists to register their work without openly violating the Berne Convention, NAFTA, TRIPS, WIPO and WTO treaties. Yet in reality, the effect of this legislation will be the same as compulsory registration: artists who don’t register their work will find it vulnerable to orphan infringement. Or to put it another way: the bill would not impose registration on rights holders; it will just endanger the work of those who don’t impose registration on themselves.

Judiciary Committee: As previously noted, a “user” of an orphan work will be required by the House bill to, inter alia, file a “notice of use” with the Copyright Office prior to use and required to place an orphan works symbol, which will be prescribed by the Copyright Office, on their work.

Illustrators’ Partnership: As currently written, the “notice of use” is a dark archive. That means if someone infringes your work and has filed a Notice of Use, you wouldn’t know about it unless:

  • you discover you’ve been infringed;
  • you sue the infringer in federal court;
  • the infringer asserts an Orphan Works defense.
  • Only then can you file a request to see if your work is in the archive.
  • In other words, the notice of use is of no probative value to the rights holder at all, unless by luck, he finds that he’s been infringed and has to go to court.

As for the orphan works symbol to be “prescribed by the Copyright Office” and placed on all so-called orphaned work: it will act as a “come-and-get-it notice,” signaling to new infringers that a copyrighted work has already been orphaned by previous infringers and is therefore free for further exploitation.

Judiciary Committee: Orphan Works critics claim that copyright protection will no longer exist at the moment of creation under an orphan works structure, that new requirements will be imposed. No new statutory requirements are imposed on copyright owners to establish protection or ownership nor is the manner for determining ownership altered by the House bill. (Italics added)

Illustrators’ Partnership: Note the modifier “statutory.” To repeat, we understand that the Copyright Office cannot propose statutory registration requirements. That would explicitly violate international copyright law and copyright-related treaties. Instead, the Copyright Office has proposed that Congress “limit” the remedies for Infringement: this pulls the teeth out of copyright law because:

  • Remedies for infringement are the only means rights holders have to protect their work from thieves.
  • There is no Copyright Bureau of Investigation; no Copyright Police Force.
  • Rights holders have to police their own copyrights, and
  • Penalties for infringement are the only weapon the law gives us.
  • Remove those penalties and you remove uncertainty in the minds of bad actors.
  • Under current law, if an infringer wants to rip off your work, he can guess that a.) you may never find out about it; and b.) it may not be registered.
  • He may guess correctly but – he can’t be sure.
  • This uncertainty is the key safeguard against infringement, because
  • If the bad actor guesses wrong, he’ll be liable under current law for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement, plus attorneys fees.
  • This is a powerful incentive for a thief not to risk stealing work. So
  • In the real world, uncertainty in the mind of a bad actor is the only weapon we have to protect our copyrights.
  • Remove that uncertainty and you remove the only realistic safeguard the law provides.

Judiciary Committee: [Critics charge that c]opyright owners will be statutorily required to “register” their works with private databases that have yet to be created to protect their exclusive rights in an orphan works environment. There is no such requirement in the House bill.

Illustrators’ Partnership: For the third time: we acknowledge that international agreements with our foreign trading partners prohibit Congress from “statutorily” requiring registration. But the proposal for commercial registries (now referred to in the bill as “databases”) has been there from the beginning. See page 106 of the Copyright Office’s 2006 Report on Orphan Works:

“[W]e believe that registries are critically important, if not indispensable, to addressing the orphan works problem…It is our view that such registries are better developed in the private sector…”

And on January 29 2007, twenty visual arts groups met in Washington D.C. with attorneys from the Copyright Office. The attorneys stated that the Copyright Office would not create these “indispensable” registries because it would be “too expensive.” So I asked the Associate Register for Policy & International Affairs:

Holland: If a user can’t find a registered work at the Copyright Office, hasn’t the Copyright Office facilitated the creation of an orphaned work?
Carson: Copyright owners will have to register their images with private registries.
Holland: But what if I exercise my exclusive right of copyright and choose not to register?
Carson: If you want to go ahead and create an orphan work, be my guest!
– From my notes of the meeting

The fact that this law would orphan unregistered work presents copyright owners with a Hobson’s Choice: either digitize your life’s work and metadata at your own expense and entrust it to privately-owned commercial “databases” or – see it exposed to potential infringement. But why should any rational business person voluntarily give access to his commercial inventory and client contact information to outside business interests?

Judiciary Committee: One of the ends of orphan works legislation is to facilitate the ability of copyright owners to receive greater compensation for the use of their works.

Illustrators’ Partnership: If this were true, we would not be spending our own time and money opposing this bill. But in fact over 60 creators organizations do oppose it: These groups represent hundreds of thousands of illustrators, photographers, fine artists, writers, songwriters, performers and countless small businesses that serve and are dependent on the creative community.

Judiciary Committee: To facilitate [licensing] transactions, it is desirable and necessary for prospective users to have the means of identifying the owner of the work as well as the ability to contact them to seek to negotiate a license.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Absolutely true, but it’s incorrect to assume this bill is necessary for that purpose. As successful business people, we don’t need government to legislate a quasi-compulsory license to replace our voluntary business transactions. We know how to make ourselves available to clients and we know how to negotiate licenses.

According to the Licensing Industry Merchandising Association, licensing is now a $187 billion dollar industry. Creators are responsible for a robust sector of the U.S. economy. We employ and support agents, directories, source books, web sites, archives, internet portals and other advertising venues to make ourselves available to users. Not only we, but all these hundreds of thousands of small businesses will be harmed, not helped, by a bill that removes effective protections for the work we create and trade in.

Judiciary Committee: The more owners voluntarily contribute to the creation of a meaningful and accessible public record of their works, which includes licensing information, the better for all parties. This includes the owner, potential users who are searching for them and the general public who will benefit from new uses of creative works.

Illustrators’ Partnership: Again, why should any business owner be required to give his licensing information to outside business interests? Consider the potential for unauthorized use or abuse! Moreover, many artists, such medical illustrators, frequently enter into confidentially agreements with their clients, agreeing to protect their clients’ trade secrets, patient or victim information and medical litigation materials from exploitation. These agreements would preclude them from displaying their work and client information in a public record.

Judiciary Committee: While the law will not, in any way, require owners to register their works or copyright information with any private entity, the fact is that the easier it is for an owner to be identified and located, the less likely it is that a user will be able to prevail in the assertion of a claim that the work was an orphan and that the owner could not be identified and/or located.

Illustrators’ Partnership: For the fourth time: to say that the law will not “require” registration is misleading. The problem with “voluntary” registries is that you can’t find a picture in a registry if it’s not there. That means that any picture – published or unpublished, professional or personal – that hasn’t been registered in one of these commercial databases could be declared an orphan for legal purposes, even if the artist is alive, easily accessible to clients and prudently managing his copyrights.

Registries would merely benefit two classes: a.) infringers – who could use a non-productive search to declare unfound works as orphans; and b.) owners of registries, who could cut themselves in on the multi-billion dollar licensing industry, currently functioning well without them.

Judiciary Committee: [But] if the owner can be easily found, then the orphan works limitation will in no way restrict the range of damages that are available to them in an instance of infringement. (Italics added.)

Illustrators’ Partnership: Several points:

  • The presumption that owners of contemporary work can’t be “easily found” is false. An owner may be hard to find if he’s died or abandoned his copyrights – that would be a true orphaned work. But this bill re-defines an orphan as any work by any author that any potential user ever finds hard to find. Sooner or later, that could be every work by every author. This bill will define millions of works as orphans on the premise that some may be.
  • Why must an owner be “easily found” by any parties other than those whom the owner chooses to do business with? Is there a national emergency in visual images that requires legislation to regulate this sector of the free market?
  • There is no need for government intervention here. We are professionals. We’re alive, working and managing our copyrights. We can be located. Our clients locate us all the time. But that doesn’t mean that anyone anywhere can find us. And frankly, why should it? What if 1000 people can find me but one person can’t? Why should that person get a free pass to use my intellectual property? Won’t that give infringers an incentive not to find rights holders? Basing a law on this questionable premise is not solving an orphaned work problem. It’s legalizing the taking of private property.
  • The argument that artists can always resolve orphan works disputes in court is a measure of the bill’s most serious defect: Any law that drives business decisions into the courts is bad for business and bad for the courts.
  • We believe our work benefits the public by being published through the channels where we wish to publish it. The current copyright law works by giving us the incentive to keep doing this. But authors’ rights are exclusive. Public interest cannot compel any creator to publish his work. So by what right of eminent domain can government give members of the public the right to publish his work for him? We’re only asking Congress to protect this basic property right.

Judiciary Committee: [Critics charge that] orphan works bill will change the laws that relate to the group registration of photographs and the registration of other types of collected works. Among other things, [they say] the expense to register will increase exponentially since works will all need to be registered individually. Nothing in the bills requires or supports this allegation.

It is true that there are already intrinsic and systematic limitations on the ability to search for individual works that are registered as part of a “group” or “collection.” Today, there is no meaningful public record of individual works that an owner chooses to register in this fashion. This situation results, in part, from the persistent desire of copyright owners to limit the expense of registration. But the decision to register works individually or collectively is today an independent decision that is exercised by owners who presumably conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the value of individual registration. Nothing in the House bill mandates changes here nor fundamentally alters this cost-benefit analysis calculation. That said, the Congress may, independent of whether or not an orphan works bill is enacted, want to consider potential improvements in the copyright registration process in an oversight or legislative capacity but the timing for doing so as well as any decision to do so is speculative.

Illustrators’ Partnership: At the recent SBA Roundtable (see below), one photographer said he had already registered over half a million images with the Copyright Office. Yet under this bill, he’d have to “voluntarily” re-register every single one of those images again, this time with privately-owned databases. How many databases? Who knows? And when a database fails, would he have to re-register his work again and again?

Under this bill, every rights holder will face this issue because:

  • The number of works created by the average visual artist far exceeds the volume of the most prolific creators of literary, musical and cinematographic works;
  • The cost and time-consumption to individual artists of registering tens of thousands (or with photographers, hundreds of thousands) of visual works, at even a low fee, would be prohibitive; therefore:
  • Under this law, every artist would see thousands of his creations potentially orphaned from the moment of creation.
  • No registry would be meaningful until billions of pre-existing works (both published and unpublished) from artists (both living and dead) have been digitized, color corrected, keyworded and registered; but
  • Few, if any, living artists could afford the time and expense of digitizing and registering a backlog of tens (or hundreds) of thousands of their own works; therefore:
  • Countless working artists would find countless existing works vulnerable to infringement from the moment this bill takes effect.

Judiciary Committee: Much of the confusion about the potential impact of orphan works legislation appears to derive from a misperception about the eligibility and availability of statutory damages to owners in infringement actions. Statutory damages are not ordinarily available to copyright owners. They are available to only those copyright owners who have registered the particular work that is infringed with the Copyright Office prior to the infringement or within three months of publication. When available, statutory damage awards generally range from $750 to $30,000. Where the infringement is proven by the owner to have been willful, the court, in its discretion, may increase the statutory damage award up to $150,000.

Illustrators’ Partnership: The issue of statutory damages is a real one and we’ve already addressed it. But debating it apart from its impact on business misses the point. Artists rarely go to court and would prefer never to have to. We oppose the Orphan Works Act for fundamental reasons: it’s a bill too far!

In drafting this legislation, the Subcommittee has relied on the 2006 Report on Orphan Works issued by the Copyright Office. But the Copyright Office studied the specific subject of orphaned work. Their study did not inquire about the workings of commercial markets and there is no evidence in their report that a market failure in commercial markets exists. This fact was summarized in a joint position paper published July 15, 2008 by the Association of Independent Music Publishers & the California Copyright Conference:

“In 2004, The Copyright Office initiated a theory, with the enthusiastic support of the anti-copyright lobby, that the public was being harmed because it did not have enough current contact information for authors and owners. The Copyright Office then requested orphan works legislation without having conducted a needs assessment study, an independent audit of its registration and copyright history records, an economic impact analysis, or an evaluation of how the public, society and authors would be affected by reduced quantity and quality of art, film, television, music, video games and other copyrighted works in the future.

Because the Copyright Office never presented evidence to justify their proposed changes to commercial markets, hundreds of thousands of creators respectfully ask that this bill be withheld until it can be re-written as a true orphan works bill. Three groups: The Illustrators’ Partnership of America, the Artists Rights Society and the Advertising Photographers of America have jointly submitted amendments that would do that. These amendments can be accessed here:

Brad Holland
Illustrators’ Partnership

Showing 4 comments
  • Antrese

    It is the judiciary committee who is missing the point. The entire bill presupposes that a “user” is entitled to an artists work and that an artist is too feeble minded to understand the art business. How arrogant can they possibly be?

  • Mary Uhles

    I of course whole heartedly disagree with this bill. To that end as i read this a different response occurs to me: what if we tax what we don’t want? How about fine, we’ll go with your bill and the private registries it would create if the purveyors of this bill agree to a 40% excise tax (in addition to any other corporate or income taxes) on the gross profits of any registry. This particular excise tax would be used to fill a fund available to artists for the sole purposes of paying for this excess registration and for legal defenses of their works. In addition to the tax, registries would be required to constantly keep on file at the Copyright office a copy of each years filing of the tax. If a particular registry failed to keep an updated filing they would be in violation of federal trade law as well as in violation of individual states Commerce and Industry laws. Federal penalty would be $400,000 per year that the filing was not done. Artists could also lobby their individual state’s legislatures to enact an additional tax on these registries as well as their own filing requirements. This additional state tax would be subject to the state’s use (imagine the boon to state funding of education/road projects this could be).

    Additionally a tax of 40% could be placed on the profits of any individual or corporation using an orphan work. Again this tax would be used fund an artist’s defense fund. And users of orphan works would be required to keep a separate filing of their tax on file with the Copyright office. Additionally states could be lobbied to place their own tax on orphaned works use.

    My point to this is that the moral argument, while correct, may not make a difference. Maybe we need to fight fire with fire. Someone out there wants to make easy money on the backs of us artists and is getting the government to do their bidding. Let’s get the government to remove that concept of “easy money”. Heavy taxes have already been proven in other states to discourage the production of other “less desirable” goods such as cigarettes/alcohol. The proposal of taxing this process to death may serve to keep it tied up in committees, until it is no longer of interest.

  • DoubtingThomas

    Mary, With all due respect, I don’t understand the logic of your proposal.

    -the government has proven time and time again that they can’t be trusted with our money. We hardly need another tax, not to mention another bureaucracy. I can’t imagine this “fund” being used efficiently or helping any artists.

    -Where did using the “boon” for state funding of education and roads come from? Artists already pay taxes just like everyone else to fund these “projects”. Why should our business pay extra for that? (remember where this “boon” originally comes from??)

    How about we don’t allow them to steal our work in the first place? Why not avoid another giant government office? (there to protect us from the law they passed to “help us” –WTF?!– sounds like the mafia to me “give me money so I don’t burn down your store.”)

  • Mary Uhles

    Hey Doubting Thomas

    um I’d beg you to re-read my post. We artists do not pay this tax. The corporations seeking to infringe do. I don’t want to be taxed again, OBVIOUSLY, but i don’t care if someone ripping off my work has to pay a giant tax. And to be honest the point is not that the gov sets up a fund for artists. The point is that we make it so undesirable to use these works by making infringers pay through the nose for them. There are 2 ways gov can be used as an instrument against big business (remember when i say big business i mean infringers). One is to tax the heck out of it and make it unviable, the other is to regulate the heck out of it (ever hear a wall st. hack complain about Sarbanes-Oxely?). My point about filing a yearly tax return is that is a frustrating form of paperwork, regulation, most big businesses try to avoid.

    Right now they think they can use the works and not pay the creator, and if this bill passes thats exactly what will happen. If we can’t get them to pay us, we can still get them to pay uncle sam. If they have to pay anybody it makes it much less “easy” for infringers to base their business model on using orphaned works.

    This is the same tactic behind “sin taxes”. if you are not from the south you may not have heard of this;) but in many states we tax the heck out of alcohol and tobacco. The result is that use goes way down. Now alcohol and tobacco are addictive substances so it doesn’t got away entirely but presumably using orphaned works will not result in the same chemical reaction in the brain. This is like a reverse sin tax, instead of taxing the creator (artists) we are taxing the user (businesses seeking to infringe).

    Don’t get me wrong, personally I’d love for this Orphan works bill to go down in flames and the purveyors of it choke on a thousand poisoned egg rolls. But my husband works in government and i’ve heard too many stories about how these things often have to be defeated through a “back door.” I”m just trying to think of a back door.

    and lest you think i’m not serious in my opposition, Thursday I’d called every representative on that list, plus my own and bawled them out for even considering this ridiculous thing (actually didn’t have to do that with mine, Jim Cooper D-TN, is opposed to it). Then i set my fax machine to poll their offices all day with a letter urging them not to adopt the senate’s bill. I did this all while on deadline and with a feverish toddler under my drawing table. Thursday was kind of a drag but there was no way i was going to say “oh I’m too busy to do anything about this”

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