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CAA Participates in Roundtables on “Orphan Works and Mass Digitization”

posted by Anne Collins Goodyear — Mar 26, 2014

On March 10–11, 2014, the United States Copyright Office (USCO) held a series of public roundtables in Washington, DC, exploring the question of “Orphan Works and Mass Digitization.”[1] Collectively, these discussion panels constituted a follow up to a Notice of Inquiry circulated by USCO in the fall of 2012, in response to which CAA filed reply comments in March 2013.[2] Given CAA’s long advocacy of legislation to offer protection to those individuals and institutions using orphan works, and after consulting with CAA members familiar with concerns related to orphan works,[3] I represented the organization in two sessions, one addressing the “Types of Works Subject to Orphan Works Legislation, Including Issues Related Specifically to Photographs” (Session 4) and the other “Types of Users and Uses Subject to Orphan Works Legislation” (Session 5).[4]

“Orphan works” constitute a class of materials for which no copyright owner can be located.[5] They have long posed a thorny challenge for scholars or artists who might seek to reproduce them, but who cannot locate the creator or a source from which to license them for purposes not considered “fair use.” As a publisher of leading journals—Art Bulletin and Art Journal, and caa.reviews—and an advocate for its members who might similarly seek to use orphan works, CAA has consistently argued in favor of orphan works legislation that 1) would significantly limit the liability of a user of an orphan work who had executed a diligent search for the work’s copyright owner, and 2) provide a safe harbor for not-for-profit cultural institutions, engaged in non-commercial activities, that had exercised similar care and that took steps to cease the infringement. At the same time, CAA has spoken to the importance of the attribution of the work and has argued that if a copyright holder comes forward that rights holder be entitled to a reasonable licensing fee if, indeed, the use is not considered “fair” as allowed under the law.

Consistent with positions taken by CAA previously, the organization argued that all copyrighted works, including photographs, should be protected by orphan works legislation. Photographs, which can be notoriously difficult to associate with their makers, have proven particularly tricky as a group of objects, actually being excepted from a directive, intended to facilitate the non-commercial public interest use of orphan works, passed by the European Union.[6] However, not to consider photographs as part of the larger category of orphan works would be extremely limiting from the perspective of CAA given the strong interest of its members in sources of visual information. Categorically excluding photographic and other works of visual art from orphan works eligibility would disadvantage users of images, including artists, scholars, and publishers, who would face continued risks of being sued for copyright infringement despite being unable to determine the identity of the copyright owner at the time of their use. The purpose of orphan works legislation is to mitigate the legal risk of using works that are part of our shared culture. It is because those risks can have chilling implications, adversely affecting creative work by artists and scholars, that CAA has been committed to support orphan works legislation.

Given the diverse range of purposes to which copies of orphan works might be put by its members, CAA has argued that both commercial and non-commercial uses of such material should be protected, given the extraordinary difficulty of teasing apart such interests. Because artists (like scholars) can be both creators and users of copyrighted items, they may seek to make and market work incorporating reproductions of orphan works. In similar fashion, academic or independent scholars or museum professionals make seek to illustrate orphan works in publications made available for sale. While recognizing that a voluntary registry (or registries) of copyrighted works, such as photographs might be useful, CAA does not endorse requiring such registration, nor does it feel that the terms of a “diligent search” for the holders of copyright of orphaned works should be prescribed, arguing instead that the best approach to such research would be better determined on a case-by-case basis.

Although previous legislation, S. 2913 (the Shawn Bentley Act) faltered in the House of Representatives in 2008, and was thus not enacted into law, USCO is now reexamining the potential value of pursuing orphan works legislation anew—both with regard to the occasional or isolated use of orphan works as well as mass digitization. These efforts reflect the influence of new technology and ongoing litigation, such as cases concerning Google Books and the HathiTrust, where mass digitization was found by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York to constitute “fair use.”[7]

The growing reliance of many libraries and archives upon the principle of “fair use” as a justification for digitization has led USCO to consider whether this defense obviates the need for orphan works legislation. CAA has argued that this is not the case, recognizing that some uses of copyrighted material may not constitute “fair use.” Thus CAA continues to appreciate the value of such legislation to clarify the class known as “orphan works” to protect the needs of its membership, even as it advocates for the development of best practices guidelines for the fair use of copyrighted material.

CAA intends to submit comments related to the roundtable by USCO’s filing deadline of April 14th. Should any CAA members wish to offer thoughts related to this topic to be considered in relation to such a filing by CAA, please contact Executive Director Linda Downs (ldowns@collegeart.org) or President Anne Collins Goodyear (AGoodyear@bowdoin.edu) by April 7th.

Endnotes


[1] For more information on this event and other Notices of Inquiry by the US Copyright Office (USCO) on this topic, please see: http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/. Transcripts and video of the roundtables will be posted when they become available on the website of the USCO.

[2] CAA’s submission of these comments is described in CAA’s resources on “Intellectual Property and the Arts” which provides a link to these comments: http://www.collegeart.org/ip/orphanworks.

[3] For their generosity with their time and expertise, I thank Jeffrey P. Cunard, Christine L. Sundt, Judy Metro, Doralynn Pines, Eve Sinaiko, Linda Downs, and Betty Leigh Hutcheson. Chris Sundt and Jeff Cunard generously provided comments on earlier drafts of this posting, for which I am grateful. CAA’s long history of involvement with orphan works is detailed in CAA’s recent submission of comments, prepared by CAA counsel Jeffrey P. Cunard, on Orphan Works and Mass Digitization to USCO, in March 2013; please see: http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/comments/noi_11302012/College-Art-Association.pdf. http://www.collegeart.org/ip/orphanworks.

[4] Due to the strong outpouring of interest in the topic, participation by each organization had to be limited, and CAA prioritized these sessions.

[5] Further discussion of orphan works can be found on CAA’s website under “Intellectual Property and the Arts,” at http://www.collegeart.org/publications/ow.

[6] These challenges and the directive passed by the European Union are discussed in the February 10, 2014 USCO Notice of Inquiry for Orphan Works and Mass Digitization, available at http://www.copyright.gov/orphan/. See specifically the discussion of the topics raised by Session 4: “Types of Works Subject to Orphan Works Legislation, Including Issues Related Specifically to Photographs.”

[7] For more information on these decisions, including links to them, please see: See http://www.publicknowledge.org/files/google%20summary%20judgment%20final.pdf and Andrew Albanese, “Google Scanning is Fair Use Says Judge,” Publishers Weekly, October 11, 2012. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/copyright/article/54321-in-hathitrust-ruling-judge-says-google-scanning-is-fair-use.html. I thank Chris Sundt for recommending these resources.