Senate Passes Leahy-Sponsored Orphan Works Bill

WASHINGTON (Saturday, September 27, 2008) – The Senate Friday night unanimously passed bipartisan legislation to encourage the use of “orphan works,” works that may be protected by copyright but whose owners cannot be identified or located.  The legislation was introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously reported the legislation in May.  A Republican objection had stalled the Senate’s consideration of the bill.


The Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act would allow users to display or employ orphaned works after a thorough and documented search failed to reveal a work’s owner. The legislation provides specific search criteria, and the Copyright Office (CRO) is expected to post guidelines for the best practices for finding a copyright owner.  The legislation also provides for court review to determine if an adequate search has been conducted in good faith.  The orphan works bill also provides protections for copyright owners who may later emerge, and provides a path for compensation should any user exhibit bad faith. 


“Some of our most treasured personal and national artifacts are being left unused and unseen because information about their copyright ownership is unknown,” said Leahy.  “It is important to recognize that this bill does not dramatically alter the structure of current copyright law.  If users do not follow the procedures set out in the bill, they are in the same place they are now – facing full statutory damages.   This bill does not create a license to infringe.  I hope the House of Representatives can consider this bill before time runs out in this Congress.”


“Countless artistic creations - books, photos, paintings and music - around the country are effectively locked away in a proverbial attic and unavailable for the general public to enjoy because the owner of  the copyright for the work is unknown,” said Hatch. “Unfortunately, it often isn’t easy to identify or find these owners of copyrighted work.

To make matters worse, many are discouraged or reluctant to use these works out of fear of being sued should the owner eventually step forward.”


The Leahy-Hatch bill has the support of the Register of Copyrights, the Software and Information Industry Association, the Association of American Publishers, Public Knowledge, and the College Art Association.   

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