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Orphan Works - back to basics

The Orphan Works issue is clearly linked to the notion of copyright, so I have been thinking about the orphan works in the context of that link and it’s original purpose.

From my perspective, the copyright concept is to encourage individual and collective authors to innovate so that society may benefit from it. To facilitate this, the copyright law is designed for one basic thing: to respect will of authors regarding how their work should be treated in the society.

The rest in the copyright domain should be a derivative from the main objective. An author’s will is usually expressed in a license. Authors may decide to charge for the use of their work which should be respected. Authors may decide to publish their work under Creative Commons License, and that spirit should be respected as well. The notion of copyright should not be considered good or evil in by itself: it is judgement-neutral (that is where I strongly disagree with FSF ).

Many more developments happened in the copyright domain and quite a few groups injected their special interests into the copyright laws. To untangle the mess, however, one needs to have the original intentions clear.

Individual authors

Individual authors’ creativity drivers vary depending on their personal believes, social position and accessible wealth. Depending on these and other factors, authors might have three main drivers: survival needs, quality of life, and self-realization (which includes a greater societal good for many authors). Society’s copyright infrastructure aids fulfillment of all three drivers through the availability of commercial and free (in many senses) licenses, allowing them (in theory) to control creative works distribution and charge for their use.

Museums

Museums are chartered with creating preservation environment, in which past achievements of humanity are made available to general public for further advancement of the society. They are mostly governed by boards of established and respected individuals, who act on their perception of what is good for the society and how to best fulfill their museum’s charter. Often collaborating (or merged) with museums and other repositories are research organizations, which are chartered with making sense out of the mass of collected artifacts, building links and answering «why?» and alike questions.

Society at large

Notice, how loose is the relationship between the societal benefit and implementing author’s will. Society’s goal in by itself is not to make authors happy. The goal is for the society to benefit in a long term from all the innovations and the creativity. Authors’ will enforcement process is secondary and is to serve that goal through created incentives. The enforcement process is also expensive and society needs to somehow balance the short term enforcement expenses versus the long term benefits. Which mean, that if society finds another, cheaper, way to bolster creativity and innovation, then copyright protections may get thrown out of the door.

Corporations

These are the organizations driven by generating maximum profit for their stakeholders. One part of what they are doing to achieve that, is to use the innovation and creativity of others at the lowest cost possible. Another part relevant to the topic is that most corporations are also authors and are incenticized by the copyright law to create and innovate, as they have means to sustain revenue from their innovation and creativity by controlling price and distribution of the use of their works.

2009-06-24

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