Orphan Works Act


Off-Topic Discussions

Liberty's Edge

This is one of the few political issues I dare post on these boards, merely because I need answers, and I need to spread the word.

The Orphan Works Act (which was passed through the United States Senate in September of 2008) was recently under debate in the House of Representatives. This bill, while designed to benefit libraries and museums, fits very nicely into the interests of large corporations (specifically their not having to pay for anything).

The (much simplified) points of the bill are as thus:

  • All works of art (visual or otherwise) must be registered or otherwise marked, or will be considered "orphaned."
  • A work that is orphaned (not clearly marked as belonging to its author) is of fair use and may be used by any party that wants it.
  • If passed, this bill would require every artist to fill out Notice of Use papers for EVERY SINGLE WORK THEY HAVE EVER PRODUCED. In my case, being merely a young art student, this would require me to register several HUNDRED works. Some versions of the bill being discussed include a fee. Ergo, if passed, it is quite possible that people would have to buy their own art back from the government.

The part that I have the biggest problem with is that someone (a corporation, private individual, etc.) could "orphan" a work of art simply by cropping a signature out, or similar. Therefore, any work could reasonably be stolen from its owner with little work on the part of the thief.

Art theft is already rampant, mainly due to the ease with which images may be found on the internet (for more information, check out Vitaly S. Alexius' DeviantArt journal).

Am I reading this right? And if I am, is there really that little that we can do about it? What the f~&* is wrong with the world?

For more information, visit the Graphic Artists' Guild website or the Orphan Works News blog (specifically, these FAQs and this letter.) I also found this YouTube video and this article informative.

Liberty's Edge

The Eldritch Mr. Shiny wrote:
Am I reading this right? And if I am, is there really that little that we can do about it? What the f&~* is wrong with the world?

I have to think that is a rhetorical question. You have laid out the relevant issues, the situation is obvious.

Corporations like Disney, having secured for "eternity" (Or at least provided for an extension to such) now want to go even further. Not only do they get exclusive use of their stuff, but all they have to do is have a little "oopsie" and at worst they have to pay a token fee to get exclusive use of your stuff.
Note, this would have been of incredible to use to WotC when they put out the Dragon CD Compendium. It will of course bode very poorly for anyone who regularly posts material for any published game, particularly if they cycle through email addresses and noms du net on a regular basis.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

That is insane. I always try to give credit to artists if I reference them, and am a firm believer in intellectual property.


Your work is going to be stolen if you put it anywhere; there's no way around it. If you have a work for hire contract from a publisher, you can conceivably use that to back up the claim that it isn't orphaned. And that's assuming that you have the time and money to take the other party to court.

The best you can do is watermark things with your name/web address. It sucks, but there aren't really that many ways around it and most of the time you won't even know if your work has been stolen. I don't think it's likely that large corporations will use it to steal your work; more likely it's a small (or foreign) publisher/website or individual that will appropriate it and you'll likely never know.

Large companies (like Nickelodeon or Viacom) in general are more likely to solicit a sample and then knock the idea off for all it's worth with a staff designer or something.

It's a ridiculous piece of legislation, but theft and distribution of intellectual property is nothing new. Proponents might say that it would ultimately protect artists/authors/musicians by having a record saying "I produced this on this date, certified by the government" but that's what a copyright is for, right?

Liberty's Edge

James Keegan wrote:
Proponents might say that it would ultimately protect artists/authors/musicians by having a record saying "I produced this on this date, certified by the government" but that's what a copyright is for, right?

Exactly.

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