May 23, 2008

Orphan Works Act

I just sent Ted Kennedy's office this email, regarding the Orphan Works Act, which...ah if you're actually interested, read on.

Senator Kennedy, I'm sorry to nuisance you in this already difficult time. Please know that you are in our thoughts and we wish you a speedy return to good health. We are saddened at the news, but confident in your strength and resilience.

I have been a freelance illustrator for almost ten years, working in Massachusetts, then New York, and now Massachusetts again. I am extremely concerned about this bill, (S. 2913) which declares the innocent intentions of cataloging artworks, but within the details seems ready to crush the careers of individual artists.

This bill will allow parties (businesses or individuals) to take images for whatever purpose they need, without appropriate compensation. They may do this after pretending to search for the image's creator on databases, managed by large corporations (Copyright Clearance Center, Graphic Artists Guild, DigiMarc, Google, InfoFlows, PicScout, PLUS, Audible Magic and Corbis), who will force artists to register, on a per-image basis all of their works. This is another attempt at privatization, bypassing public entities such as the Library of Congress, who traditionally would organize the works and endeavors of our citizens.

These database/registry corporations know that a successful, independent artist has vast amounts of work, making it financially and logistically impossible to register all of them. They also know that beginning artists probably would not make enough money to register their works. Therefore, the works by all of these artists will then become "orphaned", regardless of the efforts that the artist would make to retain ownership. The registries and stock illustration/photography houses stand to collect vast amounts of these 'orphaned' artworks, and then resell them without compensation to the artists.

It will create two things, an enormous siphoning of existing images by stock houses ...and a chill among artists creating and sharing their work. A chill on creativity is not what any american industry needs right now.

For example: I have an image in my portfolio that brings in a lot of business. It's a zombie picture that, for whatever reason, people seem to like. I get emails from people all over the world, asking to use it. I can usually turn this interest into an opportunity to create original work for the buyer, or if they are a small organization, I'll allow them to use it gratis for their spooky-walk fundraiser or whatever it is. I decide.

Let's say I am unaware of the OWA, as many artists are, and I fail to register that image. It now slips into the orphan category and a Stock illustration house may register it as their own. Not only have I lost the right to control or be compensated for use of that image, and not only I have also created profit for a company who simply "found" my "orphaned" image, I am now forced to compete with that image for the rest of my career.

Thank you,
Derek Ring
Worcester, MA


If you're interested in helping people like me continue to make pictures for a living, please email of call your Senator (I believe the bill has already passed the House).


EZ Goodnight said...

The OWA has apparently been blown waaay out of proportion lately. It's nowhere near as horrible as it initially sounds. Neil Gaiman himself told me it was "rubbish."

This article is pretty descriptive about the real purpose of this act, even though I don't really care for the tone in parts:

I'd leave Mr. Kennedy out of it. Guy has Brain cancer. I've read works are only considered "Orphaned" after 14 years, and after that, you can pay a paltry fee of $1 US to register a work of art.

abnormalbrain said...

Agreed on many points.
Firstly, I waited a few days, trying to decide whether to bother him or not. I emailed Kerry's office last week, but with less detail, as I'm not as confident that he cares. Also, I used my gmail address, rather than 'abnormalbrain', which I'm not sure would be appreciated.

That said, I'm also aware that his staff is likely still hard at work.

Secondly, I've read a lot about the bill including as much of the actual bill as I could muddle through, and I don't fully understand it. I can't help but mistrust this, which is why I say that I am "concerned" about it, though, it's true there's plenty of alarm in the rest of my text.

Do we know each other? Your reply to my post was pretty quick.

Nicole Tadgell said...

Very well done! Better than the letters I wrote to Kerry and Kennedy. I'm very sure that what we're trying to do is at least get congress/senate to DISCUSS this bill, instead of just saying "go" without discussion.

I don't pretend to understand the whole legal-ese bill, but from what I've heard, it COULD be damaging, and deserves at least proper discussion among lawmakers.

abnormalbrain said...

Also, I stand by my statement about the creative chill this can cause. Artists are pretty uninterested in legislation, but they do understand that very little of what happens lately in DC is done to help the little guy.

Regardless of the legal loopholes that this may or may not create, artists are freaked and that's not a good thing.

And even at a dollar apiece, that adds up. On my ftp right now, I have approximately 1450 jpegs, if I needed to register even half of those, that's over $700, plus the time it takes to do so.

And how is this not just another tax on freelancers? One that will go to a private company, and will not help fix the roads or schools that I believe need it. If nothing else, I at least see another privatization scam.

EZ Goodnight said...

"Abnormal Brain?" Very dark, sort of shameful LOL. I made myself sad.

No, I guess we don't really know each other. I found your blog on random searches for art and added it to my reader. I guess it just popped up and I happened to see it. I had only a week or two before emailed Neil Gaiman about the OWA--he pointed me to the blog posts I sent to you. This was all just on my mind, so I posted here. Sorry if it was a little random.

I can appreciate the "tax on freelancers" comment. But that dollar is only neccessary after 14 years! If I'm still selling an image after 14 years, I think I could part with a dollar to register it.

But still, I think this legislation is really for artworks where there isn't any real moneymaking and copyright is a barrier. It could be abused, sure. As long as you can be tracked down (ie, your illustration is signed or watermarked).

EZ Goodnight said...

As long as you can be tracked down (ie, your illustration is signed or watermarked) nothing bad should happen.

That was what I meant to say. Sort of forgot the last half of it.

Anonymous said...

You write very well.