The U.S. Copyright Office has issued a new report, Orphan Works And Mass Digitization, which identifies legislative proposals and other considerations to create mechanisms that allow for legal use of orphan works and mass digitization. The report builds on earlier examinations of the issues released in 2006 and 2011.
From the Executive Summary:
While the fundamental aspects of orphan works and mass digitization have remained unchanged since the Office’s prior reviews, a number of important domestic and international developments have affected the legal landscape. In the United States, it is difficult to separate the issue of mass digitization from two lawsuits arising out of the Google Books project, in which authors and book publishers have asserted violations of their exclusive rights and Google and libraries have asserted fair use.4 Recent decisions in these cases have magnified the public debate surrounding the costs and benefits arising from digitization projects more generally, and how best to license, except, or otherwise regulate them under the law.
Meanwhile, a growing number of countries have adopted legislative responses to both orphan works and mass digitization, ranging from calibrated exceptions to government licenses to extended collective licensing. And, private entities have developed innovative new copyright information registries and other resources to more efficiently bring rightsholders together with those seeking to use their works.
These combined developments – all of which will have substantial ramifications for U.S. copyright stakeholders – strongly suggest that it is time to revisit potential solutions in the United States. The goal in doing so is not to interfere with jurisprudence, but rather to ensure that the rules are clear and that all parties are on equal footing. Indeed, with so many equities at stake, the complexity and breadth of the issues make them well suited for legislative action.5 While the Office has addressed these issues together in this Report, we recommend separate solutions.
The Copyright Office was opposed to the Google Book Settlement which was ultimately rejected by the trial court. The current report (PDF) is available here. Perhaps Congress will get around to actually making reforms in the copyright laws to account for orphan works and digitization projects.