CEI Urges Congress to Address Orphan Works Problem

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a proposed class action settlement agreement between Google, the Authors Guild, and a coalition of publishers. The settlement would have enabled Google to scan and sell millions of books, including out of print books, without explicit permission from the copyright owner.

While the court recognized that the proposed settlement would “benefit many” by creating a “universal digital library,” it ultimately concluded that the settlement was not fair and that addressing the absence of a market in orphan works is a “matter for Congress” (PDF).

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a public interest group which submitted an amicus brief to the court regarding the proposed settlement agreement, urged Congress to act swiftly to address the orphan works problem.

“Both chambers of Congress are currently working hard to tackle patent reform and rogue websites. Judge Chin’s ruling today should serve as a wake-up call that orphan works legislation should also be a top priority for lawmakers,” said CEI Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia.

“Today, millions of expressive works cannot be enjoyed by the general public because their copyright owners cannot be found. This amounts to a massive black hole in copyright, severely undermining the public interest. Unfortunately, past efforts in Congress to meaningfully address this dilemma have failed,” Radia stated.

In 2006, the U.S. Copyright Office recommended that Congress amend the Copyright Act by adding an exception for the use and reproduction of orphan works contingent on a “reasonably diligent search” for the copyright owner. The proposal also would have required that users of orphan works pay “reasonable compensation” to copyright owners if they emerge.