In parallel with international initiatives, which we have blogged about here and here, the U.S. Copyright Office has issued an initial Notice of Inquiry seeking comments on the vexing problem of what to do about orphan works.  Generally speaking, an “orphan work” is a work protected by copyright,  yet whose owner(s) cannot be located or identified.  Under current law, anyone who uses an orphan work without permission — for example, in a historical documentary or a digital repository — runs the risk of liability if the owner should later emerge and pursue an infringement action.

The Copyright Office is interested in perspectives on recent changes in the legal and business environments that might to be relevant to a resolution of the orphan works quandary, as well as suggestions for legislative, regulatory, or voluntary solutions.  As the Copyright Office notes, “For good faith users, orphan works are a frustration, a liability risk, and a major cause of gridlock in the digital marketplace.”  At the same time, the Office recognizes the importance of not allowing works to be deemed “orphans” when the owner could in fact reasonably be identified and found.  

Comments are due by January 4, 2013 and can be submitted here.