The United States Copyright Office recently issued a broad notice of inquiry in the Federal Register, seeking comments from the public “regarding the current state of play for orphan works.” An orphan work is an original work of authorship, such as a photograph, for which a copyright owner cannot be located. The issue of orphan works has been a top priority of the Copyright Office for several years, and the Copyright Office plans to advise Congress on legislation to address orphan works in the near future.
In 1976, Congress eliminated the requirement that works be registered with the Copyright Office prior to receiving the protections of the copyright laws. The 1976 legislation effectively did away with any central repository for information about a work’s author or owner. Despite relaxing the requirements imposed upon authors and copyright owners to obtain copyright protection, under current law, those who use an orphan work remain subject to civil penalties, including damages and—if the work is registered—attorneys’ fees.
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