Paul Rapp “is an intellectual-property lawyer with offices in Albany and Housatonic, Mass. He teaches art-and-entertainment law at Albany Law School, and regularly appears as part of the Copyright Forum on WAMC’s Vox Pop.” He writes a regular column on intellectual property rights.
His most recent column addresses the “Orphan Works” copyright and potential legislation regarding it. What is an orphan work? Paul cites Meredith L. Patterson’s Radio Free Meredith where she uses this example about “your parent’s wedding pictures from 1955. You want to publish them? Guess what? The copyrights are probably owned by the photographer! Who was who? And is now where? You don’t know? Uh-oh.” The proposed bill, H.R.5889, the Orphan Works Act of 2008, seeks to provide “limitation[s] on remedies in cases involving orphan works.”
Rapp wrote just before the actual legislation was introduced, but still got it right. “The legislation will…seek to rectify the problem of lingering, abandoned copyrights, to loosen this stranglehold of ghosts on our culture, by allowing the reuse of pre-existing materials in situations where after a reasonably diligent effort, no copyright owner has been located. If, after the work is re-published, a copyright owner shows up and says ‘that’s mine’, the copyright owner will be entitled to a reasonable licensing fee for the use, but won’t be able to stop the use.”
If this legislation had been enacted, the case about the use of the street artist’s picture for their business that one of my library colleagues wrote about last month would almost certainly have applied.
Rapp, BTW, is a/k/a Lee Harvety Blotto, drummer for the legendary Albany band, Blotto.ROG