Book People Archive

US Copyright Office recommends allowing use of "orphan works"

After conducting hearings on ths issue of "orphan works" (copyrighted
works that are lost to further use because their copyright holders
can no longer be traced), the Copyright Office has just issued
a report on the hearings, and their recommendations.   It's at

I've only had time to read the executive summary and skim through
some of the rest, but the gist seems to be that they recommend changing
US copyright law to allow use of those works by the public under certain
circumstances.  Quoting from the report (via my colleague Beth Camden):

"The recommendation has two main components:

     * the threshold requirements of a reasonably diligent search for the
       copyright owner and attribution to the author and copyright owner
     * the limitation of remedies that would be available if the user proves
       that he conducted a reasonably diligent search."

Basically, if a user makes a reasonably diligent search for a copyright
holder, and cannot locate one, they could reuse the work, and sanctions
would be minimized if a copyright holder later turns up who wasn't
findable earlier.

One aspect of the recommendation that's of particular interest to Book
People is that they propose that noncommercial uses of orphan works
be completely exempted from financial liability if they do a reasonably
diligent search for a copyright holder and don't find one, and if they cease
infringement immediately if the copyright holder later turns up and tells
them to stop.

As I read this, then, someone running a completely
noncommercial online book site could look for the owner of a book
they want to post but that is (or might be) still in copyright.
If they do the right things but don't find a copyright holder, they could
go ahead and post the book online.  As long as they promptly take the
book down if the copyright holder later shows up, they're not liable
for monetary damages.

I recommend interested folks read the report for themselves, though.
As I said, this is just my initial reaction, and a closer reading
may turn up things I haven't accounted for or had misinterpreted.
But it looks like a hopeful development, and if so, something that
Americans may want to encourage their legislators to enact.