Thursday, 12 June 2008

Neighbours, don't make Art into Orphans, eh?

Artwork in the land of my southern neighbours is in danger from the Orphan Works legislation. I'm not in the habit of asking members of another country to vote certain ways, but I'm concerned. I'll certainly give some neighbourly advice and point at something.

The legislation would provide the onus to be on the artists' to prove their work is not an "orphan" piece of art by registering everything. If a large ad firm or company used a piece of art without permission and made millions from the ad campaign, the artist would have to realise, and sue. If the company can be said to have "reasonably" searched for the original copyright holder and is not found guilty of infringing on copyright and merely using an "orphan work" than they would be granted permission. The problem is, the little guy or freelancer or up-and-coming-feisty studio would have a tough time defending every time their work was infringed.

I don't have all the answers, but time is running short. Educate yourself if you are concerned. If you are an artist reading this blog, or just someone who appreciates art, you may want to do some research and possibly sign this petition.

I'd like to quote Britt Griswold, one of the professionals I've learned a lot from in online forums (be sure to check out his Sci-Art Gallery!):

Dear Artists,
The Orphaned Works battle is on. The Illustrators Partnership of America, American Society of Illustrators Partnership, Advertising Photographers, and others, have set up an effective way to inform you on what these bills will do and give you the tools to write and contact you legislators. If you wish to protect your artistic work from theft and future legal costs, it is incumbent on you to speak out now.

1. Go to this site:

2. Read the synopsis of the legislation at the bottom of the page; house bill first.

3. Read all the variations of the letters you can send (if you can stand it). They will give you a better understanding of how to address the issues.

4. Get mad

5. You can send one of the pre-written letters by email, but this will be less effective than a customized letter that shows you know and really care about this issue. To customize a response, copy and paste the bits of the various letter that address the way you feel.

6. Compose them into a personalized version in a word processor.

7. Either paste the appropriate wording back into one of the customized letter forms provided, or get the fax numbers of your representatives and fax a full letter to them for maximum impact.

8. Do it now.Go here to find your house representative.
write them a letter.
Go here to find your Senator contact numbers: is a senator finder at the top of the page.)

Go to this website to find a link for an email or mailing address contact for House Judiciary Committee members.
Find one that is in or near your State. Write them.

Go to this address for members of the Intellectual Property subcommittee.
Find one that is in or near your State. Write them.
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If you read The Flying Trilobite because you love science-inspired artwork, head over to the Science-Art Galleries, and consider a donation after looking at the wonders of the planet recorded by these most talented and informative hominids. (Hat-tip to all the hard-working scientific illustrators trying to stop this legislation. )
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All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details.


Anonymous said...

Dear Glendon,

First, let me congratulate you on your artwork! My passion is fantasy and sci-fi illustration, so I enjoyed perusing your gallery on

As your southern neighbor faced with the imminent plight of standing up for freedom, objectivity, and individualism that purportedly are the hallmark of our Constitution, but more importantly as a fellow artist, I wanted to extend my thanks for touching upon this very critical subject in your blog. In fact, what many artists might not be aware of is that if any one of these pieces of orphan works legislation (there are two versions of the bill) pass into law it will have international repercussions. As it is, the E.U. is exploring how to deal with orphan works and is monitoring what the U.S. is doing. As you know, they would likely follow suit.

However, the critical issue for those artists abroad is that there isn't any protection to them from infringement by Americans or U.S. corporations.

It's much too complex to cover everything, but I've posted my own comments on my blog:

Keep up the great work of creating and defending your rights!

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for the kind words, Samdel!

Any piece of legislation can seem daunting (probably the reason there are so many lawyers in politics - they're used to it), but I can't see how this bill is helping artists at all.

I agree it is likely to have international repercussions. For example, I'm Canadian, but is my artwork on this blog (provided by Google) or DeviantArt in the U.S.? If so, does that mean I have "handed it over" to U.S. laws? Both Google and DeviantArt say I retain the copyright on the intellectual properties, but will the fine print change?

This is brave new world stuff.

The part that gets me, is that this bill seems to make it sound like there are these poor, self-pitying waifish works of art waiting to be adopted after being cast out from their parents. Like an unwanted puppy.

All the talk about finsinf homes for these orphans and allowing them to be used just smacks of a weird anthropocentrism toward the work.

Come on, how hard can it be to hire an artist? There's a lot of eager people out there. Corporations and their art directors should get something fresh, instead of trolling the Orphan works pound looking for strays to snap up.

Comanche said...

I've been hearing about this legislation for a few months already, and it definitely concerns me (though the drama llama that struck DeviantArt was, I admit, amusing). This doesn't just apply to the visual arts - written works could be stolen as well. And since I only have the copyright of intellectual property, without that I have no rights to my works. Any company could waltz in and publish anything of mine without even leaving a note on the refrigerator. And if what the anonymous commenter said turns out to be true, you'll have the same dilemma.

I just don't see how we can do much - online petitions are worth close to zilch, and the corporations who are probably behind this have the politicians in their back pockets. The only feasible way, I think, is to let people know this is happening, and call upon a public outcry, not just one in cyberspace. Easier said than done, of course. It'll be a sad day for artists everywhere if this passes.

Glendon Mellow said...

As you said, Comanche, "without even leaving a note on the refrigerator,"!

You're right of course, it needs to carry on in the real world. I know the GNSI was planning a protest with its membership in Washington.

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