Free Culture

Digital Economy Bill Orphan Works Panic

“Orphan Works” are copyrighted works where the rightsholder cannot be
located to grant permission for the work to be used, usually some
decades after the fact. They are a real and growing problem. One of the
several positive features of the Gowers Report was its recommendation
that this problem be tackled by the government.

Orphan works legislation was shouted down last year in the US. The
reaction against the proposed legislation there was led by minor trade
groups and concerned amateurs who stood to benefit financially or
psychologically from defeating it.

A similar panic about the Digital Economy Bill’s clause 42 has arisen
on the Internet here. Any professional illustrator or photographer will
belong to an organization such as DACS that administers the copyright
of their works. Yet a lot of familiar nonsense about the DEB imposing
onerous new registration procedures and costs and “destroying
copyright” has suddenly sprung up.

I don’t support bad legislation. The DEB needs throwing out. If it is
not thrown out then clause 42 needs discussion and revision. But orphan
works legislation is needed and does not place an undue burden on the
(often soi disant) work-for-hire professionals who seem, frankly, most
afraid of it. Since the arguments against orphan works legislation here
are the same as in the US so, broadly, are the answers to them –

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