Top New Priorities for Copyright Office: Orphan Works & Copyright "Small Claims Court"

Pay attention, photographers—changes are on the way that could affect the copyright landscape! Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, recently announced how the U.S. Copyright Office plans to focus its efforts over the next two years.

"PPA is pleased to see a number of its advocacy priorities now become top priorities by the copyright rulemaking body," says David Trust, PPA’s chief executive officer. "We look forward to working with the Register over the next few months to ensure photographers' voices continue to be heard as proposals and proposed rule changes are released."

Among the list of priorities released this morning are the following items that could mean a lot to professional photographers:

  • Small Claims Solutions for Copyright Owners – At congressional urging the Office will conduct a study identifying alternative means of resolving copyright infringement claims when the claims are likely to involve small amounts of monetary relief. Since the inception of the orphan works debate in 2005, PPA has been a strong proponent of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism that would make seeking compensation for copyright infringement more accessible to pro photographers. We are pleased to see the Copyright Office start to focus its efforts on determining the best method and mechanism to help photographers hold infringers accountable.
  • Mass Book Digitization – PPA has been following the effects of the Google Book Settlement and has even joined other photographic and visual arts associations in a class action suit regarding the project. As a result, we are pleased to see that the Office will begin analyzing the implications of mass book digitization and the methods of facilitating such projects. One aspect of their research—which addresses the orphan works implications of en-masse scanning as well as library and archival exceptions—could be released as early as October 2011.
  • Legislative Work – On the legislative front, the Office plans to advise Congress about addressing rogue websites and illegal streaming of copyrighted works, providing public performance rights in sound recordings, and creating a legal framework to facilitate the authorized use of orphan works. It is important to note that while the Office will continue to weigh in on copyright legislation, any changes to the copyright law must be enacted by Congress passing a bill.

In addition to the above highlights, the Copyright Office has also committed to engaging in a number of administrative efforts, including conducting dialogues, roundtables, research partnerships and other public outreach activities with the copyright community, academics and the public at large. The goal here is to improve and streamline its processes. Among these are the following projects they hope to complete in 2012:

  • A Review of Group Registration Options – The Office intends to examine the possibility of establishing special accommodations for groups of related works, like photographs. The report projects the release of options for consideration by the general public in the early part of 2012.
  • Registration Options for Web Content – To keep your website fresh, you’re regularly swapping out images and text. To keep your website protected, you need to register it.  To make this process easier for you, the Office will determine the best way to streamline a registration process for Web content and related digital media that reduces the burden on you as a creator. We anticipate possible solutions as early as 2012.
  • Upgrades to Electronic Registration – This particular study is projected to run over the next 18 months and will kick off in November 2011. It looks to improve the online portal (for the Copyright Office’s electronic registration system), and determine what other information you (as the copyright owner) must provide in order to authenticate the online registration application.
  • Fee Study – PPA is pleased to see that the Office will once again re-evaluate its fee structure to ensure the cost associated with seeking additional protections for your copyrighted work does not create a financial burden. The result of their study could be released as early as April 2012.

To view the complete report, you can download "Priorities and Special Projects of the United States Copyright Office" from the official website of the U.S. Copyright Office.

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