America is known for the country that protects an individual’s rights. It is impossible for me to comprehend that my rights as an artist may soon drastically change, and that I could lose the rights to all the work that I have ever created. When I first heard about this, it was so unbelievable that I thought that it must be a prank. But, with further investigation I found it was not. In this article I will include a little about what I found and links with other articles for readers to peruse so that they can make their own informed decision. I am also setting up interviews with several people including Copyright lawyers, those in the writers unions, and even those in the American Federation of Television and Radio artists, to name a few. There is urgency in acting and spreading this information. For whatever reason, this is moving through congress quite quickly and will affect your rights and possibly your income as a creative person.
As I find more information and create these interviews, I will pass them on to the Editors at Best of Artists and Artisans sculpture blog to be posted at their discretion. I will also post all of the information that I find on my home page blog, located at http://www.creativesculpture.com/blog
COPYRIGHT LAW AS IT STANDS TODAY
First, a few basics about copyright law as it stands today. According to the copyright law of 1976, everything that you create is protected by copyright from the moment you create it, even if it is not registered. This is the way copyright is handled throughout the world. It was defined by the Berne convention, which is an international agreement concerning copyrights.
With the current Copyright law, you do need to register your work if you want to collect for statutory damages for infringement. If, however, your work is registered and you discover someone has stolen it and you file suit, statutory damages are punitive and can be quite severe for those infringing on someone's rights. This very idea keeps many people honest about “taking” other people's artwork.
"It is not what it appears to be, it is a Trojan horse… Under this orphan works legislation, nothing you do would be protected unless it is registered with these commercial registries… they are orphaning all unregistered work” Brad Holland
THE CHANGE IN LAW A radically proposed change to the US copyright law allows infringers to exploit the right of copyright holders with little or no penalty according to the Orphan Works Opposition Headquarters (OWOH). “Two bills currently on the “rocket docket” would let infringers “orphan” any copyrighted work whose owner the infringer failed to locate through a vaguely defined “reasonably diligent” search. The creative arts industry, including world-renowned artists, designers, photographers, manufacturers, and licensing businesses have united to oppose this legislation.”
The New Orphans Work Act declares that nothing you do would be protected unless you register it with a registry, placing a burden of diligence on the copyright owner. It must also be stated that even though these bills are moving quite fast through congress, registries do not, at this time, exist. These would be private registries where an artist would be responsible to register their art. In other words, every artist will have to pay to own their own work and each of their pieces will have to be registered, right down to the sketches in their sketchbook. If they are not and someone comes across your work and they search these directories and do not find it, then they can say that they performed a “reasonably diligent search.” They can use your work at no cost. As I comprehend the ramifications of this, the works that are presently copyrighted would also have to be reregistered. The cost of registering each piece of artwork, nevertheless the time that it would take to register each piece of artwork throughout an artists lifetime, makes this task impossible and prohibitively expensive.
According to some of the interviews that I have listened to a creative person would also have to police their artwork, making sure that no one has taken it or it may be considered orphaned.” It is also said that you would have to reply to all inquiries on your artwork or it might be considered orphaned. All of this hardly leaves room for an artist to create.
OWOH states, “The new bills would severely “limit” financial penalties for infringing. Opponents charge this will encourage deliberate theft because statutory damages are the only tool the law gives copyright holders to prevent abuse– and they say it works. Penalties for infringement almost certainly deter rampant abuse by making it risky. But as medical illustrator Cynthia Turner notes 'the new bills would protect infringers by denying artists damages, incurred court costs, attorneys’ fees and other expenses.'"
“Because these bills were planned behind closed doors, introduced with little warning and fast-tracked for imminent passage, a broad-based coalition of artists and trade associations say they have had little time to respond and generate public discussion. They say that a radical change in intellectual property law should not be rushed through Congress without public vetting. They are calling on Congress to slow down this legislation until it can be subjected to an open, informed and transparent public debate.”
Those in support of this bill are libraries and educators that claim that this bill is intended to give libraries and museums greater latitude to commercialize archived works. But, accordingto tp the OWOH, “critics charge the bills have been drafted so broadly they would permit any infringer to commercially exploit any copyrighted work, from professional art to family photos.” Those supporting the bill say that if artwork is worth something it should be registered. But if it is not worth something why would others want to take it?
Brad Holland of the Illustrators Partnership of America comments on the bill, ‘It is not what it appears to be, it is a Trojan horse… Under this orphan works legislation, nothing you do would be protected unless it is registered with these commercial registries… they are orphaning all unregistered work”
I encourage you to become familiar with the bill and take action accordingly. Your rights may be fading away without you even knowing it. If you would like to have your voice heard, The Illustrators Partnership of Americahas made it quite easy to take action. You can go to the web site and send an email, but faxes and letters are also encouraged. Please keep coming back for further information on this subject and send a link to this blog to other creative people that you know.
Don't take my word for it. You must decide how important this is to you. Here are some places to start.
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Ms. Mongeon is an artist and writer living in Houston, Texas. If you would like to use this article for your publication or would like Ms. Mongeon to write an article for your publication please fill out the contact form. Ms Mongeon is also available as a public speaker on this and other topics. A list of published works is available.