A number of trade groups that represent photographers have recently raised the alarm about proposed changes to U.S. copyright law that address so-called orphan works – works whose copyright holders cannot be located.
In statements on their web sites, The American Society of Media Photographers has called the proposal "a disaster for photographers" and the Professional Photographers of America says it could have a "devastating impact on professional photographers". These trade groups believe that photographers face special risks from the proposed changes because their work is so often published without a credit or byline and could too easily fall under the definition of orphan works.
The changes have been proposed by the U.S. Copyright Office and are being considered by Congress now. Proponents of the amendments are primarily libraries and research institutions. They argue that there is a big problem with works whose copyright status cannot be determined and that current copyright law places an undue burden on those seeking to use such works, stifling scholarship and creation of new works.
Here's a short list of links to more information:
Opposing the changes in copyright law:
- The Stock Artists Alliance orphan works blog, which includes links to other photographer trade groups and regularly updated news and commentary on the issue
- The American Society of Media Photographers call to action asking its members to fax their congressional representatives
- The Professional Photographers of America press release on orphan works
Supporting the changes:
- The U.S. Copyright Office's introduction to the issue, which includes links to scores of comments submitted by various interest groups
- The College Art Association gives a brief overview of the proponents' argument
- The Association of Research Libraries has published a list of resources related to the issue
- The proposed changes are rooted in an effort called The Copyright Clearance Initiative of the Flushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic of the Washington College of Law at American University, which is outlined in this PDF (warning: long and heavy with academic language)