Protect Your History!


Congress is drafting a new Copyright Act, and while there is no official bill yet, if the proposals made by the US Copyright Office are put into effect it could prove detrimental and devastating. The recommendations hurt not only archival institutions such as Napa County Historical Society, but all creators – including artists, writers, and photographers.

The recommendations particularly target “orphaned works,” a phrase describing the all-too-common situation where the owner of a work under copyright cannot be identified and located. Most organizations dealing with historical items have orphaned works in their collection, and in small local historical societies like NCHS, a majority of our collection falls under this category. Currently, historical organizations operate under “fair use,” but these new proposals would invalidate that.

The proposed changes to orphaned works would result in:

  • archivists having to conduct extensive, time consuming research on individual items and file a “Notice of Use” to the Library of Congress if no creator can be found;
  • mass digitization of intellectual property, likely by for-profit corporations;
  • “Extended Compulsory Licensing,” which replaces voluntary agreements between creators and clients for corporate licensing structures;
  • and the establishment of a Copyright Small Claims Court to process the increase in orphaned works lawsuits.

The last few proposed alterations of US Copyright Law were defeated through grassroots campaigns, which is why we need your help! Contact the Copyright Office directly and tell them their recommendations hurt artists and hinder historical research.

The deadline to submit letters is July 23, 2015.

To learn more about the negative effects of the recommendations, read this response by the Society of American Archivists, watch this video by artist Brad Holland and illustrator Will Terry, and review the highlights as compiled by the Association of Research Libraries.

The official US Copyright Office Report on orphaned works and mass digitization is available here.