©hange is in the air

AUTUMN is already seeing a flutter of initiatives on "orphaned works" - words, pictures and sounds for whom no author can be traced. Mike Holderness reports:

As the Freelance has previously reported, libraries' wish to digitise and distribute works without asking whether they can find their author or not - and Google's attempt to redefine the word "library" to mean "Google" - may well be a bigger threat to the framework of authors' rights and to journalists' income than the possibility of a scheme for commercial use of orphaned works.

If "library" comes to mean "copies of anything delivered to your computer" then we could all suddenly be dependent on Google's decision of what our share of its income is as payment for pretty much all uses of our work after first publication.

On 7 September EU Commissioners (Civil Service chiefs) Reding of the "Information Society" department and McCreevy of "Market" announced that they plan to "ensure a regulatory framework which paves the way for a rapid roll-out of services, similar to those made possible in the United Sates by the recent  settlement [Google Books: see October report], to European consumers and to the European library and research communities..."

"It goes without saying," they said, "that digitisation of copyrighted works must fully respect copyright rules and fairly reward authors."

The Commission will face very strong pressure for a "library exception" that would give them - and Google - permission to copy all works, orphaned and parented. It seems likely, given the Commissioners' statement, that this would come with some kind of payment, via collecting societies. Would this come from central funds? From the income of the googlibrary? Who would set it?

The UK government seems to want to get in first. Its Digital Britain report back in June announced plans to introduce legislation to allow licensing of "orphaned works" - and "extended collective licenses" that could extend the scheme currenly used for cable television re-distribution to library copying and perhaps television archives. Authors (who, for the avoidance of doubt, include photographers) would not be asked but would be paid, through collecting societies.

It remains to be seen what will actually be announced in the Queen's Speech on 18 November. The NUJ will be watching closely and pressing to ensure that authors' rights are respected.

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