The Return of Orphan Works: Get smart with the 2008 Orphan Works Roundtable by the Small Business Administration

Google is–of course–very interested in orphan works.  They have a deep and abiding interest in the subject.  For example, current Twitter General Counsel, Google’s then-attorney, Berkman Center affiliate, Lessig acolyte, and all round digital sophisticate Alexander MacGilivrey made that clear in his testimony at the Copyright Office:

“I would encourage the Copyright Office to consider not just the very, very small scale, the one user who wants to make use of the work, but also the very, very large scale and talking in the millions of works.”

That statement was made on July 22, 2005—almost 4 months to the day before the Library of Congress announced a $3 million gift from Google for the Librarian’s World Digital Library pet project.

In 2008, the U.S. Small Business Administration hosted a roundtable in New York on the then-pending orphan works legislation.  The roundtable participants represented independent creators that were not getting heard over the massive lobbying muscle that was trying to jam the bill through Congress.  The Copyright Office sent a representative named Oliver Metzger who, we are informed, made it clear to some of the roundtable participants that what they did or said would have no effect on stopping the legislation he was honchoing.

Shortly after the legislation was stopped, Mr. Metzger left the Copyright Office and joined…Google.  However, lightening doesn’t strike twice and Google’s lobbying muscle is even more massive today than it was in 2008.  (For the entire sordid tale, see the excellent article by Brad Holland of the Illustrators Partnership entitled “Trojan Horse: Orphan Works and the War on Authors” that was serialized at The Trichordist.)

Fortunately, a video was made of the SBA orphan works roundtable.  We strongly recommend that you take the time to watch the video.  It’s pretty long, but it is well worth your time if you want to understand the impact of orphan works legislation on individual creators.