Orphan WorksDiscussions on orphan works have been happening for a while. Last year, the EU brought out a Directive on Orphan Works which went into some detail about diligent searches to discover authors/creators, appropriate record-keeping and (where possible) rights registries, and is particularly keen for searches to be able to be conducted across borders. However, the Directive neatly dodges the issue of artistic works as it does not include them in its scope. The Directive must be implemented into UK law within 2 years, but is without prejudice to any national laws drafted in the meantime in relation to orphan works (so it wouldn't restrict the provisions of the ERR Act).
So what does the ERR Act do? Well, it extends section 116 of the CDPA (which is to do with licensing schemes and licensing bodies) and allows for the Secretary of State (by way of regulations) to permit a person or persons to authorise the grant of licences for the use of orphan works. I have to say, I find it curious that the text of this new section (116A) deviates quite significantly from the text of section 116, and appears quite confusing - why not continue with 'licensing body' rather than 'person', for example? The definitions are already there, but not so for the new section, so I wonder who will have responsibility in authorising these licences. These regulations will set out the scope of the diligent search that must be undertaken before a work can be declared orphan, and a licence subsequently granted will not be an exclusive licence. The regulations may also specify 'other matters to take into account' (one would assume that the potential for the orphan work to have been stripped of its metadata would be part of this), provide for royalties to be paid should the author/creator come forward, and provide for circumstances where a licence should be withdrawn.
Extended Collective LicensingThe ERR Act adds another new section to the CDPA in the form of 116B which will in similar fashion to 116A allow collecting rights societies such as the Copyright Licensing Agency to apply to the Secretary of State to be able grant licences to organisations to use works where the copyright is not owned by the collecting rights society or its authors/publishers. Quite how this works in practice is unclear; does it apply to works of foreign origin, for example? If it does there could potentially be jurisdictional issues. The licence granted could cover any or all of the rights in copyright and could actually in practice be very difficult to administer, given that rightsholders can specifically request not to be included in any grant of extended licence (and one assumes there would be many opting out of this particular one). It is also not clear how this section works with orphan works; could they fall under an extended collective licence, for example? Perhaps the regulations will make that more clear.
How do these regulations come about?The ERR Act states that regulations will come about via statutory instrument that must be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. So there will be more parliamentary fun to be had over the next 12 months or so when it is assumed these regulations will be drafted.
Some thoughts...The orphan works issue has come about because of the large quantities of works with no defined author held by archives, museums and galleries. In the digital age, with the seamless technology available, these heritage institutions want to be able to make these works available to the public in ways which would ensure their preservation but also put them on display for the world to see. The cost of trying to trace the rightsholders for these works is disproportionate and most smaller archives and museums are forced to abandon projects because the risk of infringement is too great. Ideally, there should be a solution which enables heritage material to be put into the public space because the public funds its preservation. However, the ERR Act will require museums and archives to pay a licensing fee up front to put orphan works from their collections online, and given that there may be a lot of orphan works which will probably remain unclaimed, there is a question about where the money goes, who holds it and who profits from it. At present, it doesn't look like the people directly involved (i.e. the creators who create the work or the institutions who hold and preserve it) will receive much if anything at all.
There should also be a mechanism in the regulations to prevent large corporate organisations evading the cost of photographs from stock image galleries by applying for an orphan works licence. This would have serious consequences for the photographic community and is not (in my opinion) what the purpose of orphan works legislation was supposed to be about.
There's actually a very good balanced article over at the Economist's blog which takes into account the photographers' views and lawyers' views and echoes some of my thoughts on the issues.