Yeah, it does sound like the proposed orphaned works legislation sucks
. Frequent contributor Noah Berlatsky
provides some background on the issue in his essay, "Read This And I Own Your Brain
I'm a very minor league critic and zinester. Yet, if I live an average lifespan, this article will not be in the public domain until sometime in the 2130s. Needless to say, by that point, there is a fair chance that my reputation, The Comics Journal
, and even Fantagraphics
[the publisher of The Comics Journal
] will all have ceased to exist.
Imagine now that, for whatever reason, some academic stumbles across a copy of this issue in some library archive in 2105, and wants to reprint my article. She will of course need to secure the rights. Remember that copyright is no longer linked to year of publication - so to determine if the article is out of copyright, our academic will need to find the date of death of some anonymous reviewer in a tiny, defunct, decades-old magazine. If she's particularly savvy and interested, and has time and money, perhaps she'll ask the copyright office to run a search - which may or may not be definitive, since, as mentioned above, copyrights no longer need to be registered. Alternately, she may just reprint the piece, hoping that nobody will bother to sue her. But there's also a fairly decent chance that she'll just say "fuck it" and forget the whole thing. This is too bad for her, obviously, but it's also too bad for me, and for anyone who writes with the desire to have their work read by as wide an audience as possible. [Licensing this article under the Creative Commons license is meant to address some of these issues, at least as far as this particular article is concerned.]
Works whose creators can't be found are sometimes known as "orphaned works." As copyright is extended, orphaned works by obscure or unfindable authors become more and more common. Already, films and comics from the '30s, '40s, and '50s are deteriorating beyond recovery because no one knows who has the right to restore and reprint them. This isn't intentional - it's a kind of accidental, bonus censorship. Indeed, it's so clearly pointless that Capitol Hill - prodded by public-domain advocate Lawrence Lessig - has actually shown some vague interest in fixing it.8
The entire article is a valuable overview of copyright in these times.
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