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How you may lose all the rights to every piece of art you have ever created

Post #1165 • April 24, 2008, 4:01 PM • 10 Comments

Mark Simon interviews Brad Holland (mp3) on the so-called Orphan Works Bill, which will force you, as an artist, to pay protection money to as-yet non-existent companies for the privilege of owning your own work. The authors of the bill are a group of students working under Peter Jaszi, a law professor at American University, who, lo and behold, subscribes to a postmodernist, Marxist doctrine that equates copyright with theft. (Actual theft is fine with them, apparently.) Resource pages at Mark Simon and Illustrators' Partnership. Educate yourself and act accordingly.




April 24, 2008, 7:03 PM

It would be nice if they would post a copy of the bill instead of all the scare talk, an MP3 I couldn't open and lots of complex Q&A about something I had only an inkling about, and still do. I am still not sure what the fuss is about, but it seems seriously overstated.

If you have an urgent cause it is best to be very clear up front. Otherwise you sabotage yourself.


Chris Rywalt

April 25, 2008, 6:36 AM

It seems to me there are definitely two sides to this story. Orphan works are something which should be addressed: Certainly some amount of works, both artistic and scholarly, never come to be because of copyright fears. This isn't a painter's problem, by and large, but I know for a fact it's a problem in filmmaking. Plenty of films are out of print -- can't be released on DVD -- because they contain content presumably owned by someone, but no one knows for sure who. (Filmmakers sometimes use stock footage or music with rights separate from the rest of the film.) Films sometimes also have tangled ownership.

Photographers are particularly upset about this bill because often copyright information isn't distributed with the image. They're worried that their images will be picked up as Orphan Works even when they're not.

I say to hell with photographers. They get too much credit as it is. Photons do all the work!

I don't see Orphan Works as a painter or sculptor's problem, since their work is really about originals, not reproductions. Unless you're aiming for the Dali poster market, I guess.



April 25, 2008, 6:59 AM

Or unless you're an illustrator. Or you produce, say, a webcomic.

As the law stands, copyright belongs to the creator automatically, and this bill would undo that. What they're proposing would oblige me to copyright every image in The Moon Fell On Me at a rate of $30 per image to an unknown number of registries that don't exist yet, and if I don't, someone could poach the work and reuse it.

Opie, I would tend to chalk this up to hysteria as well if not for the studied involvement of Brad Holland. I agree that it would be nice to have a transcript. Holland did write a decent summary.



April 25, 2008, 8:43 AM

Perhaps I looked somewhat superficially because I did not see that the bill proposed requiring image-makers to register with registration firms for a fee.

Obviously anyone making any kind of image would be violently against that. But I can't ses such a law possibly getting past the legislature and certainly not through the courts, where it would immediately end up, because it is a tax on ownership of intellectual property. It would furthermore would spawn a huge wholesale industry of pirating which would again throw thousands of cases on the courts.



April 25, 2008, 8:48 AM

This just in: The Graphic Artists Guild has PDFs of the House and Senate versions of the bill.


Chris Rywalt

April 25, 2008, 5:41 PM

Illustrators get paid for their work in the first place. So to hell with them, too. Webcomic creators are clearly insane, since they're working, not only for no money, but for, by and large, no hope of money ever. At least a painter/sculptor/conceptual artist can hope to get paid for their work someday. Probably never, but at least there's hope. Anyway, since Webcomic people are going to do what they do regardless, who cares about their copyright?

I admit paying for copyright on a regular basis is probably not the proper way to handle orphan works. But it'd be nice for them to be handled somehow. Then again, I consider the copyright and patent systems in America (and the E.U.) to be so completely broken and in need of an overhaul that this is a minor concern.

It'll never pass Congress. It didn't last time.


Pretty Lady

April 25, 2008, 5:53 PM

I think we should just gut intellectual property law to the bare bones and have done with it. We're giving our content away for free on the Internet, anyhow. As this legislation shows us, hanging on to our illusion of control over our own work just gives people leverage to shake us down.

Not that I wouldn't take to the streets to prevent this stupid bill from seeing the light of day.



April 25, 2008, 5:57 PM

In a sense I'm with PL. I believe in strong copyright protections for individuals. When it comes to corporate entities and heirs, those protections ought to dwindle.



April 26, 2008, 7:00 AM

two different views on this issue.




April 26, 2008, 12:21 PM

I worship brad holland as a painter, but he's one of the artists who got us into this mess by building an empire on liscensing and then coaxing other artists to do the same.
If you're not active in liscensing, this bill doesn't effect you. I personally support an orphaned works act, because if you want to make your money in liscensing you should be expected to register that work as proof of ownership. All other work should be owned by the public (in terms of copying - thats not to say anyone should be able to claim authorship). Copyright law is an outdated and arbitrary mess and it would be nice to have some logical ground rules that work for the internet age.

I've always been very hesitant about liscensing. Its great in some respects ($$$), but it also has created a "pay-for-play" or "paid-clicks" culture in the creative community, which i believe has had a negative effect on creativity. Brad Holland is a good example - he insisted on making his fortune by selling the same works over an over, and so we saw an entire decade of variations on the same illustration over and over again in almost every magazine and newspaper. (You know, the little man in a business suit climbing the ladder of success reaching for the dollar-bill-shaped leaf on the tree of wealth).



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