back to article EU copyright database could help reform the laws on orphan works

A project designed to identify the copyright status of European works will be extended to cover multimedia material and could become a vital tool in the reform of the law surrounding orphan works, European commissioner Neelie Kroes has said. The ARROW project was established in 2008 to co-ordinate the activities of libraries …


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  1. A J Stiles

    If you're going to reform copyright .....

    It has come to the time when the question must be asked: Is continuing to grant authors temporary, exclusive control over the use of their work in return for a promise that it will eventually become part of the Public Domain, still the best way to ensure the continued enrichment of the Public Domain?

    Perhaps the whole idea of copyright itself -- conceived at a time when distributing content required relatively expensive and difficult-to-conceal equipment -- is out of date.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You're wasting your time

      I totally agree the current rules are crap and ought to be changed, but unless you enjoy the idle speculation there's little point in thinking about how copyright might, theoretically, be reformed. You have an international treaty that prescribes "life + 50 years", and you have powerful vested interests that have already managed to extend the duration of copyright to "life + 70 years" in the EU, the USA, Russia and other places and are trying to extend it even further. I don't think an intellectual discussion on whether the whole idea of copyright is out of date is going to make any difference, unless someone picks up those ideas after the revolution. Not that I'm suggesting anyone should revolt, of course, so please don't kick my door down and arrest me as a terrorist.

  2. The Cube
    Thumb Up

    A "cultural good" eh?

    Well then that will permanently exclude;

    1) Any product of News Corp (Sky, Daily Mail etc)

    2) Any program ever made by Endemol dog-shit productions

    3) Anything ever said by Jonathan Ross

    As none of these meet either criteria of being culture or good.

    I think he's right, it will be excellent!

    1. Chris 3

      You clearly...

      Never watched any of Ross' rather insightful film reviews or interviews on the Film programme.

      A loss.

  3. copsewood

    monopoly via copyright is a privilege

    If law theoretically in the interests of all of us is to grant the monopoly we call copyright, this should reasonably come with obligations on the part of the beneficiaries. One of these should be to identify and register ownership so this can be cheaply and quickly discovered by interested parties. Another obligation should be to establish that the owner continues to be interested.

    If we don't create such an obligation on the beneficiaries of copyright, artists who may be treading upon unknown cultural toes have no way of knowing whether this is safe, leaving too few places left to walk when creating new works which may arguably infringe upon old ones.

    If the purpose of granting this monopoly isn't to incentivise creation of new work then what on earth is it for ? Most owners of this particular kind of property lose interest in it after a short while. The exceptions should have to put a little money where their mouth is to recompense the rest of society for the privilege they obtain by denying the public domain earlier access. So I'm all in favour of a default copyright period of a few years without the owner having to pay to establish this, but where copyright owners intend extending copyright beyond a few years they have to pay a small fee to keep the work registered in copyright for longer.

    1. A J Stiles
      Thumb Up

      Yes indeed

      If the author can't be traced, then they obviously don't want their royalties payments, and their work should be fast-tracked into the Public Domain.

      1. Glesga Snapper



        I have found images that I created, which have been stripped of their metadata by a third party (by accident and on purpose). If these get into the public domain then it is not the fault of the author that they can't be identified.

        I'll think you'll find most authors of creative works keen to be identified correctly.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        At least part of the problem..

        Is that some organisations routinely strip that information from pictures and images which makes the best efforts of the author, moot.

        the BBC is particularly guilty of this Although they are not the only ones.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Copyright used to suppress a work

      There are cases where the copyright owner doesn't want the work to be reproduced. Some of these cases are a bit dodgy, and you might want to argue it's an abuse of copyright, but there are some more legitimate cases. For example:

      * You've brought out a newer version of the work. You don't want people reproducing the old version.

      * The work contains dangerous misinformation.

      * The work expresses opinions that you no longer hold. (At the very least you'd want it to be reproduced with an explanation that you no longer believe what you wrote then.)

      * There's an interaction with libel here: you might have agreed with someone who threatened to sue you that you would suppress the work to the best of your ability.

      * It was simply a bad work and you don't want it further tarnishing your reputation.

      Should people have to pay fees to maintain the copyright on such works?

      1. A J Stiles

        Quick answer

        Quick answer: Make misattribution work both ways; so falsely attributing a Public Domain work to someone as though they were the copyright holder would be as serious an offence as falsely attributing a copyrighted work to someone who is not the copyright holder.

        If you don't want a work to be attributed to you, then you can simply dedicate it anonymously to the Public Domain before your life plus 70 years is up (when that would happen automatically anyway).

      2. dssf


        Years ago I rushed out some "art" (drawings) along with a book. The drawing had some mistakes, and the book was riddled with many more because i did not use any editor other than myself, and the buyer of the store to whom I sold did not proof anything before buying.

        But, when in 2003 I registered my copyright with the US Library of Congress, the agent told me that if it had already shown to the general public, or substantially unchanged, it would not be eligible for copyright registration. The main benefit of registration is the abilty to sue for damages and other compensation. Unregistered works might have only a benefit of stopping infringers from producing more unauthorized examples or certain derivatives.

        So, I feel I should be able to go to 3D from 2D with my other work and be protected and granted registration, since the medium on which the work is based won't be just paper. It'll be a 3D model, possibly interactive.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The usual tripe from corpsewood...

      "If the purpose of granting this monopoly isn't to incentivise creation of new work then what on earth is it for ?"

      Duh. Copyright is for incentivising creation.

      "Most owners of this particular kind of property lose interest in it after a short while."

      Musicians STOP wanting to be paid, do they? Authors STOP wanting royalties? Songwriters go, "That's enough thanks, I think I'm just not going to accept anymore payments for my song".

      What a completely whacky planet you live on.

      " leaving too few places left to walk when creating new works which may arguably infringe upon old ones."

      The answer is simple: be original. Real artists aren't worried about plagiarism, because they know they have something original to add, small perhaps but that's uniquely their contribution.

      You always seem to be totally thrown by this concept, and have a lot of trouble getting your head around it. Is that because you've got trouble recognising true originality? Envy seems to be your main motivation I would guess.

  4. Mark #255

    non "commercial" works?

    And will I be able to register all my photos as I post them* on flickr**, or is this big business only?

    * Acksherly, I don't post my photos anywhere, but still.

    ** Or replace with photo-sharing site of the moment

  5. Neil Lewis

    Copyright for small producers benefits everyone

    I'll first declare a business interest. I have been a pro photographer since the late 1970s. Perhaps it would help if I explain in simple terms how copyright actually keeps overall costs down for clients, at the same time as rewarding those who honestly try to do their best work.

    Can we first of all establish a few key points.

    Costs. I run a business. It has costs - fixed overheads such as rent, rates,staff wages, waste disposal, light and heat, accountancy, etc. as well as the costs of consumables, purchase, maintenance and replacement of equipment and finally my own wages and a reasonable return on my capital investment.

    Demand. There is no shortage of demand for our services. This is not a 'buggy whip' situation, where a product or service is simply obsolete. If anything, the visual nature of our society and the relative visual sophistication of people means there is more need for good quality, professionally created images than ever before.

    So what's the problem? Well, fewer and fewer individuals or businesses have any respect for copyright, nor understand why it's in their long term interests to do so. It's very easy to complain that copyright only serves creators, not consumers, but that misunderstands the way it has worked in our situation.

    In the past, we used to charge a fairy moderate fee for the initial job where individuals were concerned. We could do that because we knew we would make the bulk of our profits from aftersales - extra print orders or re-use of the work. in other ways. The result was low cost services, with higher cost prints. But of course, we only achieved decent aftersales if we did the job well enough for people to actually want extra copies of our work. There was a genuine, financial incentive for us to do the best we could. Similar factors applied when dealing with business clients, even though our charge for service was higher and our charge for prints lower, relatively, because they tended to order much bigger quantities of prints.

    Now those clients ignore copyright and don't pay us for the copies they want, instead paying a third party copyshop to produce them ilegally. Local trading standards would take action if they were duplicating CDs or DVDs en masse, but they don't when it's the work of local photography businesses.

    So, what do we do? If it's practically impossible to enforce our intellectual property rights, our only possible course of action is to charge enough for our service to cover all those costs I mentioned above, or stop providing those services altogether. It's hard to see how either of those courses of action benefits our clients.

    The 'orphan works' problem doesn't really enter the equation for us. It's not a question of our clients not knowing we did the work, or that we own the copyright. It's just that they're too shortsighted to realise that ignoring our rights will either increase the future cost of our services or remove those services altogether.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Photographers should sell the copyright

      Most people who commission a professional photographer to make photos want to purchase the copyright. As far as I know, it is still the case that most professional photographers insist on retaining the copyright. So what happens? People the ignore the copyright, of course. What do you expect?

      The solution: stop trying to retain for yourself the copyright for work that you were paid to do. Provide the photos to your customers on CD/DVD.

      1. Glesga Snapper

        A title.


        I believe you are confusing a licence with total copyright buyout. When a client commission work from me they are granted a licence to use/reproduce that work in pre-defined ways and for an agreed period of time. The licence may also stipulate exclusive or non-exclusive rights to the image.

        A client may wish to completely buyout copyright in perpetuity, but they should expect to pay a price commensurate with that level of control.

        Finally, the majority of images that I supply to clients are in digital form, so I don't know what you're wittering on about CD/DVDs for. In this digital age it's not unusual for images to only exist in hardcopy at the final stage of going to a commercial printer.

        1. dssf

          But, some photographers simply do not want to be BOTHERED

          With the copyright issue, whether pre-digital or post digital. Some will outright offer the copyrignt at a minimal markup or just offload it. A whole lot easier now to just get rid of huge piles of photos and proofs of innumerable sizes, paper/cardboard, protectors, albums, slides, and so on. Home-based professional wedding/corporate event photographers probably salivate when considering how much of their homes the rescue from tons of soon-to-be-rubbish. Yes, once in a while, clients from ages ago pop up with a reprint request, and even better, send on referrals, who sometimes want to review the work from the past and current works.

          But, if the client takes over the copyright, that is one less headache and due-diligence activity the pro photographer can dispense with. Less bothering with watermarks, and the whole lot of tracking and enforcement responsibilities.

          1. Anonymous Coward


            So years later, little Timmie at the back of the wedding photo turns out to be a pop star, a politician or a serial killer. The photograph is worth a fortune. The photographer is glad they kept the copyright.

            The answer to tracking and enforcement "bother" is to change the system to protect the photographer, so the Daily Fail can't steal photos and then (c) The Internet as it did recently.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Commercial Exploitation of Orphans

    Most of the debate appears to be about commercial enterprises getting free use of orphan works "cos we couldn't be bothered to trace the owners".

    How about a GPL-like solution? Any work incorporating an orphan instantly enters the public domain, except for that part of it which is the orphaned work...

    Should make the media giants a little more diligent in their searches for original authors, whilst opening the field to not-for-profits, academics, and the like.

    1. Mme.Mynkoff


      "Any work incorporating an orphan instantly enters the public domain, except for that part of it which is the orphaned work..."

      I like that idea. It could be extended.

      I could leave a packet of crisps in your car then claim your car as my property. Vrrrrrrrrroooooom!!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this is not a title

    And this will become a quango and will end up like the performing rights society, prowling round to find transgressors, and growing fat from them, while passing on the fees it extracts. After deduction of 'reasonable' expenses of course...

  8. longbeast


    All creative work by any EU citizen is copyrighted just by the fact that it has been created. Even if you're restricting the database to written and static visual media, that's still going to be a staggeringly vast amount of information.

    Nobody can possibly hold all copyrighted works, maintain accuracy of the database, and use it as a basis for deciding ownership of copyright. One out of those three yes, maybe two with great effort... all three, not a hope.

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