Google is no stranger to controversy. One of the most controversial subjects the search engine has been involved with in the last couple of years has been the struggle over orphan works and the rights to them. You can read more about this controversy here.
It’s easy to see why Google’s approach to digital rights, particularly with regard to orphan works, is so controversial. There are a lot of questions it raises about who has a right to profit from such works in the future. Specifically, some of the best questions about Google’s proposal are:
- What room will there be for future competition?
- Who will own the rights to orphan works if the authors don’t show up?
- Who will own the rights to orphan works if the authors do show up?
- Who should be allowed to profit from orphan works?
- Should orphan works be treated differently than works where the author is known and can be found?
- What about international or foreign rights? How are those affected?
An orphan work, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a creative work whose author cannot be located and for which the copyright may not otherwise be expired. In other words, a work of creative imagination created in the last 20 years where the author is not known and/or cannot be found could be considered “orphaned”. Should it become a part of the public domain?
These are not easy questions, but they are questions that will likely be answered by the courts some time in the near future. Meanwhile, Google is attempting to get a handle on the creation of a new digital library that will make such works more accessible to more people. Is that a good idea?