Orphan works

Image: MorgueFile

Imagine you arrive at a foreign airport, only to discover that your luggage has somehow gone missing. Perhaps it’s on a later flight, or it was sent to another airport.

So you go to the lost baggage office, only to be told that because the owner of the luggage could not be identified, they gave it to some stranger who said he wanted it. Not to worry though, he kindly left a ten euro note in case the owner was ever identified.

Ridiculous? Of course it is. But rename the lost luggage office the Digital Copyright Exchange, and you’ve got a good idea how the Hargreaves report wants to reform copyright law in the UK. In Ireland, the programme for government includes a commitment to a grandly named International Content Services Centre, doing pretty much the same thing.

Orphan works – words or images whose author are unknown – would be paid for through an exchange, so the theory goes.

But how hard is it to identify an author. Articles carry bylines, photos hold metadata. And if either goes missing, there’s software to identify words and images.

So who benefits from labelling something an orphan work? Certainly not the creator.

Image: MorgueFile


By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.