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*December 1, 2006* – The U.S. Copyright Office and the photographer community are taking a temporary breather between battles over the Orphan Works Bill (HR 5439). Currently under the Copyright Modernization Act (HR 6052), the proposal would allow publishers to use copyrighted work without payment if the copyright owner is declared impossible to find.
Called a "disaster for photographers," according to American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) website, the bill would declare copyrighted property as "orphan works" if their owners could not be identified.Such situations would include death, un-credited photos, or if the owner simply could not be located.
Spearheaded by the Copyright Office and sponsored by Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Copyright Office raised the issue last year, arguing that in some cases tracking down copyright owners is "impossible," according to the bill.
Photographers and editors, including the Advertising Photographers of America, the National Press Photographers Association, the White House News Photographers Association, and the Stock Artists Alliance, argue the proposed bill would lead to copyright infringement.
Since Congress adjourned in October, the Orphan Works bill died this session. Thus, a temporary victory was declared for photographers.
"The battle has been won, and we can breathe easier for a while. But the war is not over," declared the ASMP in a Sept. 27 announcement.
Rep. Smith (R-TX), however, pledged to reintroduce the orphan works issue under the HR6052, the Copyright Modernization Act, before the 110th Congress (a House and Senate that turned around in the November elections).Democrats now control both the House and the Senate, which leaves many debating how the party adjustment will affect the outcome of the orphan works issue. Orphan Works Round 2 will have to wait until Congress reconvenes in January.