I signed my first online petition in many years

Against the Orphan Works Act of 2008. (Obviously I’m not keen about the “eternity” part in the petition, but one doesn’t need to support the ultimate ends of an ally to find an ally.) (See also my oped about a month ago.) Almost a decade since the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, and we’ve still learned nothing.

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19 Responses to I signed my first online petition in many years

  1. Valorie Wilson says:

    Mr. Lessig,
    As a small artist trying to support my young child, I greatly appreciate your voice in this matter. I can’t imagine that this was a decision you came to lightly.


  2. B.Dewhirst says:

    Well, I guess this means there will be -no- reduction of copyright in my lifetime, and more and more works will fall into limbo.


    Strangely, this is not my idea of what compromise consists of… and since there is no compromise at all from the pro-copyright side, I’ll be over there with the “copyright is theft” crowd.

  3. Gavin Baker says:

    Larry, it seems like a mistake to conflate orphan works with term extension. Even with the most reasonable of terms and formalities, there will still be some orphan works. Orphan works reform has to take place, irregardless of term reform. Why not win what we can win now, and try to win more later? It seems naive and self-defeating to let perfect be the enemy of good.

  4. Sam says:

    Professor Lessig,
    I’m a little confused. I’ve looked around trying to find the specific objections to the bill that might have caused you to support the petition, but I haven’t had much luck. Based on what you’ve written, it seems as though a system making it easier to use orphaned works is something you would favor:

    If you buy a house, you have to record the sale in a deed. If you buy land upon which to build a house, you have to record the purchase in a deed. If you buy a car, you get a bill of sale and register the car. If you buy an airplane ticket, it has your name on it.

    These are all formalities associated with property. They are requirements that we all must bear if we want our property to be protected.

    In contrast, under current copyright law, you automatically get a copyright, regardless of whether you comply with any formality. You don’t have to register. You don’t even have to mark your content. The default is control, and “formalities” are banished.

    In the world before digital technologies, formalities imposed a burden on copyright holders without much benefit. Thus, it was progress when the law relaxed the formal requirements that a copyright owner must bear to protect and secure his work…But the Internet changes all this. Formalities today need not be a burden. Rather, the world without formalities is the world that burdens creativity. Today, there is no simple way to know who owns what, or with whom one must deal in order to use or build upon the creative work of others. There are no records, there is no system to trace—there is no simple way to know how to get permission. Yet given the massive increase in the scope of copyright’s rule, getting permission is a necessary step for any work that builds upon our past. And thus, the lack of formalities forces many into silence where they otherwise could speak.

    —Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

    I know that you go on to say, “the law should therefore change this requirement—but it should not change it by going back to the old, broken system.” I assume that somehow, this bill represents a step backwards for the copyright system, but I was wondering if you could take the time to explain exactly how. Also, if this is an attempt to mollify copyright-reform activists, how could the authors have so misunderstood how to go about it? What is the bill’s history? What is it trying to do, and how is it failing?

    -Sam H.

  5. Robert Adams says:

    I find this very weird. On the one hand, you’re opposing Orphan Works. On the other, Creative Commons — the organization you started — wants to get into the commercial registry business for Orphan Works http://creativecommons.org/press-releases/entry/8306

    They’ve also lobbied extensively for the bill’s passage and you’ve been a big supporter in the past.

    What’s going on here?

  6. poptones says:

    How can you argue for reform of copyright while insisting artists have moral rights to works? Is not letting artists decide how and when their work is used – forever – not granting moral rights? And are nto moral rights even more dangerous than limited copyright terms even when those copyright terms seem to be vulnerable to perpeptual extension? At least we still have a fair use argument, however fragile – giving artists the right to forever decide when and how their works are used would seem to defy everything you have argued over the years even in the SCOTUS!

    What gives? Are all these changes related in any way to playing politics with Obama? Should some of us who have supported your efforts (and/or his) be concerned? I, for one, am growing more concerned with every new post…

  7. Steve Lehman says:

    Hey Larry,

    Thanks for signing!!! and thank you for mentioning it!

    Click >> http://www.PetitionOnline.com/Stop2913/

    For everyone else, please follow the lead and help protect your rights – take 30 seconds to click the link, sign the e-petition and e-mail it to everyone in your address book. It be great, if you could write a brief personal note to your friends and colleagues as to its importance. Please post the information on blogs, digg, delicious, facebook, myspace, etc. as well.

    Thank you.

    All the best,

  8. Dear Mr. Lessig,

    As an artist and concerned citizen, I cannot fully express how your actions reflect a true sense of “sensibility” and reason that should be the M.O. of our Congress. Your statement that “one doesn’t need to support the ultimate ends of an ally to find an ally” hits the nail on the head when it comes to reaching equanimity within such a difficult subject as orphan works vis-à-vis artists’ rights.

    As it is, you’re now finding disagreement from some of your purported supporters. It concerns me more when there’s a total lockdown of communication and they who at one moment applaud your ideas can immediately change to question and be “confused” if you present an opinion, or more particularly if you take action, to stage the arena for open discussion, and expose facts that raise awareness of a potential injustice.

    I perceive an enemy in anyone or anything that will attempt to use force to subjugate me into giving up what is of value to me. However, when matters are presented with genuine sincerity and objectiveness collaboration is only a step away, even if it means reassessing one’s approach to arriving at an agreement. Again, as long as one is not being forced into altruism there’s always a light of hope.

    I trust that some of the more zealot spirits that have partaken to support the idea of a vehicle such as Creative Commons, and a “democratic” society, will recognize that your actions are not at all contradictory. I cannot speak for you, only express what I perceive from your actions.

    My belief as an artist isn’t necessarily that I should hold a right to my creations in perpetuity, because I perceive that to be an extremist view. Consequently, from that standpoint it’s much easier to conceive of myself as an “ally” of yours, particularly now.

    I do encourage you to run for Congress! :o)

  9. Portland says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It is unfortunate that a more reasonable bill was not proposed as this is an area of law that is ripe for reform.

  10. helenchao says:

    Well, I guess this means there will be -no- reduction of copyright in my lifetime, and more and more works will fall into limbo.

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  11. joy g says:

    dear Larry,
    I guess my feelings on this are close to those of Sam and poptones (above). No doubt there are huge problems with the current orphan works legislation, but the language of this petition makes my skin crawl:

    “We believe it is the unalienable right of the individual artist or person to decide how their photographs, illustrations, videos, music or paintings are used for eternity.”

    As an artist who does not earn any income whatsoever through licensing contracts or royalties, I have a different point of view than the authors of this petition. My personal loyalties tend toward the independent film makers rather than the commercial photographers (for example), and my gut feeling has been to try to at least start on the road toward preserving orphan works.

    I find the extremely proprietary sector of the arts community to be troubling for many reasons that I don’t need to list here. Don’t we all need to relinquish such claims of originality/authorship and the desire to control how our works are re-purposed “for eternity”? This statement and the proprietary zeal behind it seems to go against most everything you stand for (or is it just my perception of that zeal and what you stand for?). I guess, no matter how debased and ineffectual the current bills may be, I can’t see validating such a troubling attitude.

    respectfully as always,

  12. joy g says:

    hey again Larry,
    I’m having trouble articulating the full import (!!!) of my discomfort regarding the implications of that petition — it’s been bugging me for days. I guess, in the end, since most of us are unable to parse the legal documents themselves, we rely on those experts whose judgment we trust. For those of us who trust you, this is just weird. I know, you’re not “keen” on some of the sentiments expressed by the authors of this petition. But these are folks in my own industry that I argue with constantly, and who I find to be generally irrational if not hysterical about what they thinkof as their property. They actually have never heard of Eldred, and have no grasp of the implications of the rollicking takedowns of the DMCA. They have no interest in the plight of orphan works, or in anyone else’s plight for that matter, it’s all about what they perceive as their freedom and their ownership; they even seem to believe that their own works, remarkably, will be artificially “orphaned” by this legislation. These are the same folks who believe that collage, montage, assemblage and appropriation are “theft.” You must be so utterly mortified by these bills to actually sign this petition…

    I’m sorry. I’m having a really bad day.

    — J

  13. Haukur Þ says:

    I agree with the previous commentators, what’s going on here? Is this some sort of Leninesque “the worse, the better” move? Even though this legislation is far far from ideal is it really actually worse than the status quo? The status quo is pretty horrible, as you’ve laid out better than anyone else.

    And you can ally yourself with people saying things you’re not comfortable with without actually signing petitions you are uncomfortable with.

  14. Handbags says:

    I wouldn’t agree on that They have no interest in the plight of orphan works. Because every fact shows that they do have a big interest, you just need to see it deeper. Tha’t my personal opinion.

  15. John David Galt says:

    You might want to take another look at that petition, and consider taking your name off.

    Paragraph two asserts that an author has the human right to control how his work shall be used, for all eternity!

    I’ll grant you that copyright ought to be opt-in, and that this bill is too vague about what a “diligent effort” is (though I would simplify it by establishing a central registry, or using an existing one such as the Copyright Clearance Center, and making it sufficient to look in that one place — it would then be the copyright owner’s responsibility to keep his address known to the registry if he wants to keep his IP rights).

    But this petition goes directly against everything you fought for in Eldred.

    You’d do better to start your own petition, so it says exactly what you want.

  16. David says:


    I, too, am more than a little confused as to how you find this petition an acceptable compromise. Could you briefly explain how this helps move things along?

  17. Former Fan says:

    Larry, I’ve been a fan of yours for some years. I know you’re not a copyright minimalist by any means. But agreeing with this online petition is an amazingly boneheaded stance, and I hope someone with more time than I have corners you and beats some sense into your head. The problem of orphan works is HUGE. The proposed bill is a tiny step in the right direction, that will harm absolutely no one, not one single person. By definition, 100% of people who intend to profit from their automatically copyrighted works will be easy to locate and contact. So will many of the owners of works that have been thrown willy-nilly into the aether. And for those relatively few folks who simply can’t be identified from the work….. haven’t they volunteered their work for the commons? Shouldn’t the commons have some potential to ever reclaim works from the post-1978 years?

    Some people are suggesting above that you’re just holding out for your proposed “better” solution. I don’t think that’s the case.

  18. steave says:

    The act is alternatively known as the sonna bono copyright term extension act.Sonny Bono Act, or pejoratively as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act – extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years.


  19. K Harris says:

    I agree with the others Larry, it seems like you’ve lost the script.

    If you are precise enough to want a specific wording on orphaned works legislation, why can’t you be precise enough to write your own petition which isn’t completely flawed on the purpose of copyright (“eternity?”) and the purpose of the legislation (doesn’t create a government mandated database to track journalists)?

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