A new legislation calling for changes in the laws about orphan works, i.e. works whose copyright owner cannot be identified or located has become one step closer to being passed in the US.
If the new legislation is passed it would allow anyone to use orphan works provided they had “performed a reasonable effort to locate the copyright owner of the published work”. Should the rightful owner then turn up the user would have to compensate them and, if they fail to do so, the owner could take the matter to court.
The bill (HR 5889) will now be presented to the House of Representatives and the Senate and the President when, if approved, will become law.
So what is the problem? You might ask. If a photographer finds his work being used by another they can simply claim payment for the images. But what if the user refuses to pay? A court proceeding would be a lengthy costly process and any image could fall into the category of an orphan work if it has not been registered with the copyright office. Furthermore, if a price is offered by the user it, would not necessarily be an acceptable sum in the eyes of the photographer.
Should the changes be passed, the legislation will come into effect in 2011 or 2013, and if it does happen, it's only a matter of time before it happens over here in the UK.
More information on the legislation can be found here.