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D-Lib Magazine
June 2006

Volume 12 Number 6

ISSN 1082-9873

Orphan Works

In the Clips and Pointers column of last month's issue of D-Lib Magazine, a pointer was included to the Library of Congress' Report on Orphan Works: A Report of the Register of Copyrights [1]. Since that issue was disseminated, the topic of "orphan works" – i.e., works for which the copyright owner cannot be located reasonably easily, if at all, by those who wish to obtain permission to re-use the copyrighted work – has come to my attention again in three different contexts.

The first involves a request sent to D-Lib for permission to reprint an article that was written by an author who is now deceased. Though I'm quite sure the author would have granted permission for the reprint, D-Lib does not own the rights to the article and cannot grant reprint permission. Though the article may not qualify as an orphan work quite yet, it does mean that the potential user of the article must go to some lengths to determine who now owns the copyright for the article.

The second context involves a May 23 item in "The Wired Campus" [2], a blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education, announcing that U.S. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas had introduced a bill (H.R. 5439) entitled "Orphan Works Act of 2006" [3]. Among other things, bill would put limits on the remedies for infringement of copyright when the person or organization that used the copyrighted material without permission had diligently searched for the copyright owner, without success, to obtain permission for such re-use and had documented the attempts to do so. On May 24, 2006, H.R. 5439 was referred by voice vote from the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property to the full House Committee on the Judiciary.

The third context was the open plenary of last week's IEEE/ACM Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (JCDL 2006) in which Daniel Clancy, Google Print, presented a slide showing that more than half the works being digitized as part of the Google Print program are orphan works. The slide graphically illustrated the enormity of the problem. It is disturbing that potential users of such a large part of the intellectual output contained in these works in most cases cannot find the copyright owners to obtain permission to re-use these works.

Reasonable people may disagree about how the problem of orphan works should be resolved, but it is inarguable that a solution should be found.

Bonita Wilson


[1] Report on Orphan Works: A Report of the Register of Copyrights, United States Copyright Office, January 2006. Available from <>. See also "Statement of Jule L. Sigall, Associate Register for Policy & International Affairs, before the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, March 8, 2006. Available at <>.

[2] Orphan-Works Legislation, "The Wired Campus" The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 23, 2006. Available at <>.

[3] Orphan Works Act of 2006, H.R. 5439, May 22, 2006. Available at <>.

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