Help Rescue Orphan Works

From a BoingBoing article titled Tell US Copyright Office to let you use orphan works!

The US Copyright Office is investigating whether it needs a system to clear the way for people who want to use “orphaned” copyrighted works that have no visible rightsholder. They’re seeking public comment on this. It would be great to submit your own stories of orphaned works you would use if you could — old RPGs, software, books and photos and paintings and such.

This has the information from the Federal Register along with the email address to send your comments.

SUMMARY: The Copyright Office seeks to examine the issues raised by “orphan works,” i.e., copyrighted works whose owners are difficult or even impossible to locate. Concerns have been raised that the uncertainty surrounding ownership of such works might needlessly discourage subsequent creators and users from incorporating such works in new creative efforts or making such works available to the public. This notice requests written comments from all interested parties. Specifically, the Office is seeking comments on whether there are compelling concerns raised by orphan works that merit a legislative, regulatory or other solution, and what type of solution could effectively address these concerns without conflicting with the legitimate interests of authors and right holders.

DATES: Written comments must be received in the Copyright Office on or before 5 p.m. EST on March 25, 2005. Interested parties may submit written reply comments in direct response to the written comments on or before 5 p.m. on May 9, 2005.

This pertains to all kinds of intellectual property, but lots of RPGs, especially, are prime candidates for a potential rescue with this. Lots of old, small games with good bits in them are out there, languishing because the copyright provisions are stifling, rather than encouraging, development, marketing and innovation.

I’m especially interested in this because of my own involvement with DragonQuest, the old RPG put out by SPI in the early 80s. The ownership of the rights to the game are murky, since SPI went out of business and was acquired by TSR, who were, in turn acquired by Wizards of the Coast, who were themselves acquired by Hasbro. Think anyone at Hasbro has any clue at all about what SPI was, let alone the disposition of their intellectual property?

This could be a very good thing if it is adopted and implemented in a sane and reasonable fashion.

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