Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can't Find Copyright Owner: What Do You Do?

Dear Rich: If one has tried and failed to locate the copyright holder of an image or if they no longer are in business or are unknown to the author (myself), is it sufficient to use a disclaimer such as "All reasonable attempts have been made to contact the copyright holders of all images," and perhaps "You are invited to contact ____ if your image was used without identification or acknowledgment." We recently watched an excellent Vidal Sassoon documentary and at the end was a similar statement – something to the effect of “For those photographers whose images we used without permission, we tried to find you and couldn’t and thank you for your wonderful contributions.” Orphan works. What you're dealing with is an “orphan work” --- one that is still protected under copyright but whose owner is missing in action and there's nobody to contact for permission. (There was an attempt to legislate rights for orphan works a few years ago but sadly that failed.) A disclaimer like this won’t relieve you of a claim for infringement but it could go a long way towards limiting your damages if (1) somebody appears out of the woodwork to chase you, and (2) you can demonstrate you made a reasonable good faith to search for the owner. A typical good faith search would include an Internet search and a search of the Copyright Office records.