Protecting Your Rights

Protecting Your Rights

By Ron Leach, Publisher

The U.S. Copyright Office recently issued a call for comment on "orphan works"--asking a number of questions about what to do with works that are still technically under copyright protection but where the rightful owner cannot be located. In response, four leading photography organizations submitted a detailed joint analysis of this important issue.

The four industry groups were Professional Photographers of America, Commercial Photographers International, the International Association of Professional Event Photographers, and the Student Photographic Society. Together with their affiliates and chapters, they represent some 28,000 professional photographers and photography students. Their letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, dated March 25, expressed agreement with the notion of creating an accommodation for those wishing to use works that are truly "orphaned," but it cautioned that any exception for this purpose must be narrowly drawn and should make it easy for photographers to enforce their rights.

The photography organizations noted that their primary concern is ensuring that any orphan works exemption does not open the door to "even more rampant infringement of photographic copyrights." They expressed a secondary caution regarding the possibility than an orphan works exemption would result in the "inadvertent and unfair loss of copyright protection for many artists"--citing commercial and media photographers who often have little control of how their works are presented to the public.

In their 13-page letter, the industry groups also suggested that any orphan works provision require a reasonable search for the rightful copyright owner, require the copier or user to maintain records of that search, and--if that search is successful--only allow a limited range of reproductions or uses. The groups further recommended that any orphan works claims be submitted to a forum other than the federal district court--suggesting a "Court of Small Copyright Claims--to avoid the substantial costs involved with district court litigation.

We will keep you posted on further developments in this area, as they are forthcoming.