The 109th Congress adjourned last month without taking action on a number of copyright related bills.
Most significant amongst the un-adopted proposals was the “Orphan Works” act, which was first proposed as a stand-alone bill, then later incorporated with another, much less appealing, copyright amendment. Orphan works legislation is tremendously important for libraries, and is relatively uncontroversial, at least compared to many other copyright proposals. The legislations incorporates a proposal made by the Library of Congress that would amend the “remedies” chapter of the Copyright Act (Chapter 5 of Title 17 in the US Code) so that it would be easier to make use of works that are still in copyright protection but for which a rights holder able to grant permission for the use is unavailable. The potential user would be required to make a “reasonably diligent” search for the owner of the copyright before proceeding. After such a search, if a rights holder turned up later on, the only financial liability the user would have would be to pay a reasonable licensing fee for the use to that rights holder. A non-profit educational institution could avoid even this fee by ceasing to use the material.
Orphan works reform would greatly reduce the “chilling effect” that extended copyright protection has on libraries that want to prepare digital collections and displays. Often the material in question is quite old and no longer subject to any commercial marketing, but libraries are currently subject to significant damages if they use such material and are later confronted by a re-appearing copyright holder .
Two other pieces of legislation that were left unresolved were the “Broadcast Flag” proposal and the “Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act of 2005.” The former would give the FCC authority to require that all digital TV signals contain code that prevents redistribution. Because its language about educational exceptions is unclear, this proposal seems to threaten legitimate educational exploitation of TV signals. The Consumer Rights Act, on the other hand, would create an amendment to the DMCA to allow consumers to bypass technological copy protection controls as long as that “circumvention” did not result in copyright infringement. This proposal would greatly simplify educational use of digital content.