Dear Mr. Simison:
Thank you for contacting me about orphan works. I appreciate hearing from you, and I am sorry to hear that we disagree on this matter.
On April 24, 2008, Senator Hatch and I introduced the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008, S. 2913. This bill would allow the use of orphan works, but only if the users first conduct and document a diligent search for any owners, from whom they could seek licenses to use the works, but are unable to locate those copyright owners. If a copyright owner later emerges, the user must pay reasonable compensation to the owner and is shielded only from full statutory damages.
The Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act does not dramatically restructure copyright law - it simply provides for a limitation on damages in discrete, limited circumstances in which, among other things, the owner is not locatable. It does not provide for a transfer of copyright ownership or rights. The legislation also does not require artists to register their works; it merely provides extra protection for visual works by requiring the Register of Copyrights to certify that there exist databases of visual art that have the capability to search images both by text and by image.
Congress must act carefully to ensure that legislation does not harm the creators who hold copyrights and who bring so much value to our culture and our economy. At the same time, I would like to see the chance for social and cultural enrichment by enabling use of these orphan works by the public. At its core, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act seeks to unite users and copyright owners, and it seeks to ensure that copyright owners are compensated for the use of their works. It does not create any orphans, and it does not create a license to infringe.
Again, thank you for contacting me. Please keep in touch.