Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Am a Creator of Orphans

In the past I have been outraged by things our government does. Like NOT pass a Bill that would give medical insurance to millions of poor uninsured children. Or it's foreign policies, or it's unlawful taxation of our incomes. Oh, the list could go on and on. And I have emailed letters to the Congressmen about it. But when Mark told me about this the other day, I went from disbelief to outrage and finally to that feeling when you realize that your best friend stole your prom date.

Basically, there is a Bill being written right now that could very well end Mark and my art careers. This is not an exaggeration. It's called Orphan Works. It would make it very easy for anyone to take photographs or works of art from artists and use it for monetary gain, and take away the rights or ability for the artists to do anything about it. So why would any advertiser, publisher, or licensing company ever buy art directly from an illustrator, photographer, or fine artist when they could just browse the web and take any image they came across. This Bill reads as if someone was specifically making a plan to bypass paying artists for any work they use, and make it nearly impossible for the artist to take legal action. Please listen to this interview with Brad Holland, who is part of the Illustrator's Partnership. It explains it better than I can. There is information on Orphan Works there, too.

Since the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention Implementation Act in 1988, intellectual property has been protected by the government. Artists, along with authors, musicians, or anyone who created a work, were protected. Nobody could use your work without your permission, and if you registered the work with the Copyright Department, you could get monetary damages for the violation. You simply showed them that you possessed this work.

If this Orphan Works Bill passes, artists, only visual artists and photographers, are NO LONGER PROTECTED, can NO LONGER GET THEIR WORK COPYRIGHTED, will have any existing copyrighted work UN-COPYRIGHTED, and have to prove HOW and WHEN someone stole their work, using their own lawyers. It would make artists and photographers the only artists who can't. Artists can register their works for a fee with private commercial agencies(which don't exist yet), but this gives no protection either. A company will just have to look at one or two of these agencies, and if they don't see the work, can legally use it, paying a whatever fee they choose. The artists has no say. The company can always say,"Oh, I just came across this image." And legally they are protected. Artists will have to register their images with every single company if they want full protection, and still get close to nothing if an image is used. A lot of time and money for nothing. My paintings will no longer belong to me.

The Orphan Works Bill supposedly has a purpose of freeing up artwork done by artists who have passed away, thereby 'orphaning' the work. Or making it legal to use artwork of which nobody knows the origin. This is all fine and dandy, and Canada has figured out a simple way to deal with this. If someone in Canada wants to use an orphaned work, they just apply with the Canadian Orphan Works to use it, then research is done, and permission denied or accepted. Simple, huh? Well, my hunch is that some VERY wealthy special interest groups here in th U.S. saw some major money making potential for dealing visual images and decided to have the government orphan ALL artwork and photography done in America. Corbis Images and Getty Images, sellers of 'stock images', are two such groups, and they have expressed their interest to Congress, in support of this Bill. THIS is the real reason for the convoluted, over complicated, nonsense of a Bill that is wasting everyone's time. If it wasn't about these companies looking to profit, why wouldn't the U.S. just do what Canada is doing?
Obviously, everyone involved with this Orphan Works Bill has no idea about the art world and absolutely no regard for professional artists, and I am furious. To make it worse, the Bill is said to be based on the ramblings of a self absorbed Law Professor and his students and their Marxist views about authorship of intellectual property. First of all, who in their right mind bases a Bill on this crap? And if it isn't really based on it, then what kind of looney says it is? And if the theory is that all artistic creation is based on what other artists have done before them, therefore rendering it instantly communal domain, why attack just visual artists? And not musicians, poets, writers, sculptors, architects, designers, etc?
It's obvious to me that visual artists are being singled out because it is easy to take advantage of them, and there are no big corporations to fight.
I really feel like my world is dissolving around me, and I have little chance to save myself and Mark from this nonsense.

The new Orphan Works Bill is not written yet and so has no official number or title. This means that letters to Congressmen and Senators will have no effect yet. I am afraid that this is on purpose, and that the new Bill will go to a vote with no time for opposition to write or protest. Mark and I are writing to every artist and friend once letters can be written to bring attention to this violation of rights and ask for help in fighting it.

I am terrified for our future.


Dave said...

Bullshit. TOTAL bullshit. And somone DID steal my prom date as well!

AllBeehive said...

Hey, your google analytics is wrong! I've been coming a few times a day! I just read up on the orphan act and before you get too scared, it seems like 1) this is just a poorly written first draft, 2) it is really for museums, libraries, publishers, and indy films who can't find the photographers who did holocaust pics and 3) if someone uses a pic, it doesn't mean that they don't have to pay you if you find them. You still own the copyright and you still decide payment, and you can still issue a cease and desist. That's not to say that the way it is written it can't/won't be abused. But your name is on every one of your paintings. If someone can't find you, they are lying. It is worse for photographers who get their stuff stolen from flickr. But I am sure that is already happening rampantly.

paintrly1 said...

Thanks, Christy. Yes, the Bill reads as such - for museums, etc. And I really do think that was the ethical point of the Bill. But as is, it leaves too many ways for stealing and takes away rights.
I really hope I am wrong, but from what I have heard, special interest groups are now taking over and taking advantage. The bottom line is that artists will no longer have an automatic 'creator's copyright' on their work. And we will not be able to copyright anything in the future.
Again, I hope I am wrong, and this Bill will be rejected for one more specific to Museums, documentaries, etc. and not image stores.

Kristin C. said...

Whaa?! This is crazy talk! Isn't it nuts, all the things the government has in the works that the general public doesn't know about....NUTS! I don't have the brain power to keep up on all of this stuff....and yet it seems everyday I learn bout a bill like this that doesn't seem right or fair and I feel helpless. I will write a letter when the time comes, in fact, I'll write it now and have my finger over send or my tongue poised over a stamp until you give me the go ahead. :-)

Amy Davidson said...

I will forward your post to someone who knows a magazine writer in New York who plays the piano. I don't know if he can help publicize, but it's worth a try.

paintrly1 said...
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