Artists Alert: From the Illustrators Partnership 
The Return of Orphan Works
Part 1: "The Next Great Copyright Act" 

JULY 1, 2015
For more than a year Congress has been holding hearings for the drafting of a brand new US Copyright Act. At its heart is the return of Orphan Works.

Twice, Orphan Works Acts have failed to pass Congress because of strong opposition from visual artists, spearheaded by the Illustrators Partnership.

Because of this, the Copyright Office has now issued a special call for letters regarding the role of visual art in the coming legislation.

Therefore we're asking all artists concerned with retaining the rights to their work to join us in writing.  
When and Where

Deadline: July 23, 2015

You can submit letters online to the Copyright Office here.

Read the Copyright Office Notice of Inquiry.

Here are the Basic Facts

"The Next Great Copyright Act" would replace all existing copyright law.

It would void our Constitutional right to the exclusive control of our work.

It would "privilege" the public's right to use our work.

It would "pressure" you to register your work with commercial registries.

It would "orphan" unregistered work.

It would make orphaned work available for commercial infringement by "good faith" infringers.

It would allow others to alter your work and copyright these "derivative works" in their own names.

It would affect all visual art: drawings, paintings, sketches, photos, etc.; past, present and future; published and unpublished; domestic and foreign.


The demand for copyright "reform" has come from large Internet firms and the legal scholars allied with them. Their business models involve supplying the public with access to other people's copyrighted work. Their problem has been how to do this legally and without paying artists.

The "reforms" they've proposed would allow them to stock their databases with our pictures. This would happen either by forcing us to hand over our images to them as registered works, or by harvesting unregistered works as orphans and copyrighting them in their own names as "derivative works."

The Copyright Office acknowledges that this will cause special problems for visual artists but concludes that we should still be subject to orphan works law.

The "Next Great Copyright Act" would go further than previous Orphan Works Acts. The proposals under consideration include:

1.) The Mass Digitization of our intellectual property by corporate interests.

2.) Extended Collective Licensing, a form of socialized licensing that would replace voluntary business agreements between artists and their clients.

3.)  A Copyright Small Claims Court to handle the flood of lawsuits expected to result from orphan works infringements.

In your letter to the Copyright Office:

It's important that lawmakers be told that our copyrights are our source of income because lobbyists and corporation lawyers have "testified" that once our work has been published it has virtually no further commercial value and should therefore be available for use by the public.

So when writing, please remember:

* It's important that you make your letter personal and truthful.
* Keep it professional and respectful.
* Explain that you're an artist and have been one for x number of years.
* Briefly list your educational background, publications, awards, etc. 
* Indicate the field(s) you work in.
* Explain clearly and forcefully that for you, copyright law is not an 
legal issue, but the basis on which your business rests.
* Our copyrights are the products we license.
* This means that infringing our work is like stealing our money.
* It's important to our businesses that we remain able to determine
   voluntarily how and by whom our work is used.
* Stress that your work does NOT lose its value upon publication.
* Instead everything you create becomes part of your business inventory.
* In the digital era, inventory is more valuable to artists than ever before.

If you are NOT a professional artist:

* Define your specific interest in copyright, and give a few relevant 
* You might want to stress that it's important to you that you determine
   how and by whom your work is used.
* You might wish to state that even if you're a hobbyist, you would not
   welcome someone else monetizing your work for their own profit
   without your knowledge or consent.

Because this is a complicated issue, we'll follow up next week with some expanded thoughts of our own.

- Brad Holland and Cynthia Turner
  for the Board of the Illustrators Partnership

The Illustrators Partnership has filed multiple papers with the
Copyright Office regarding this issue

You can download them from the Copyright Office website:

Remedies for Small Copyright Claims
January 17, 2012

Orphan Works and Mass Digitization
Initial Comments, February 3, 2013

Orphan Works and Mass Digitization
Reply Comments, March 6, 2013

Orphan Works and Mass Digitization
Additional Comments, May 21, 2014

Please post or forward this artists alert to any interested party.