Don’t Panic About Orphan Works

Recently there was a lot of panic and hysteria surrounding purported “Orphan Works” legislation.

Orphan works are those whose copyright parents, i.e. owners, can’t be located, and therefore receive something of a copyright “pass” in potential penalties.  It turns out that the fears were overblown in several respects, as described in an Art Copyright Coalition sponsored white paper by Joshua Kaufman.

Under the Copyright Office’s current report (which is not legislation), a user must conduct a “diligent search” to find the copyright owner.  This requirement, I believe, will go a long way to protect the art licensing & publishing industry.  Not only are our artists and artworks easily searchable and identifiable by name or title, it is easy to search by the actual image.*  There is no excuse for “Oh I couldn’t find the copyright owner,” or, as we hear so often, “Oh, I didn’t know it was under copyright.”

On top of that, copyright remedies remain in place for commercial uses of artistic works on any useful article. The proposed changes regarding Orphan Works specifically exclude art works incorporated into useful commercial products.

Fortunately for our industry, the Art Copyright Coalition is keeping a watchful eye on all potential legislation regarding copyrights and will meet with congressmen/women who will be framing any legislation.

*Go to google search, click on images, then click on the camera icon.  You can put in an image url (not page url), or upload an image.  It’s not searching the words associated with the image, it’s searching the image data itself. Similar reverse search functions can be found at