The EC, apparently keen not to be outdone by the US for stupidity on the issue of untraceable authors, has launched a website of Orphan Works images.
As the press release describes it:
MILE's potential solution to image copyright theft sparks controversy
Malta, 4th June 2008 - The MILE Project launches its Orphan Works
database at a major conference during the international CEPIC congress 2008 in Malta. MILE - Metadata Image Library Exploitation - is a project funded by the EC which works towards harmonizing cataloguing standards for all image collections within the European Union. Coordinated by The Bridgeman Art Library, the world's leading resource for fine art images, MILE's project partners and speakers were welcomed by the British High Commission in Malta, His Excellency Nick Archer, and his wife Erica for a pre-conference drinks party at The Residence.
The idea is simple : provide a repository where alleged orphan works can be uploaded and can be browsed and hopefully identified by visitors, but those drinks must have gone to their heads if they think it'll work.
At present the database contains just 412 supposed orphans, so this may seem viable, but how this is supposed to work once populated by tens or hundreds of thousands of images is left as an exercise for the reader. The premise seems fatally flawed as far is photography is concerned because of the sheer numbers iof orphans, literal millions of photgraphs by countless thousands of authors.
The site appears to have been assembled by academics, curators and art collectors and within their specialised frame of reference probably seems a practical solution. Nobody seems to have factored in the possibility that according to the ASMP testimony to US Congress, around 90% of the photographs on the internet have become divorced from ownership details. This may turn out to be a very large database indeed, and it is by no means clear who, if anyone, will be browsing and identifying rights holders.
It's also worth noting that no visual search of the database is possible, you cannot upload an image and have the system do a 'looks like' search. Search is purely by keyword or author's name. Of the existing orphans, the creator's name is already known, what is unknown is there whereabouts or how to contact them. Again, with photographs the most common situation is that nothing is known.
Yet MILE claims 'This database also serves to collate all search efforts for associated works of art so that Europe is provided with a centralised source for Orphan Works discussions, search history and potential repatriation.'
This database is probably a pointer toward EC thinking regarding solutions to the 'orphan works problem'. As with the US, the agenda seems to be firmly in the hands of those who wish to exploit orphan works rather than those whose work becomes orphaned most often through careless usage. This database provides a weak and optimistic means of perhaps de-orphaning some well-known work, but what is needed is a robust means of ensuring work does not get orphaned in the first place. As far as photographs are concerned, that means making the user legally responsible for preserving the metadata and for proper, mandatory attribution. It is absurd to legislate so that users can benefit from their own negligence, and wishful thinking to expect the MILE website can act as an effective countermeasure.
The MILE website helpfully includes Links to relevant resources:
The WATCH File is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in other creative fields. WATCH should be the first step in your search for a copyright holder.
Within the current copyright framework, use without being unable to obtain permission is infringement. Orphan Rights law will necessarily reverse this and sanction infringement where a copyright holder cannot be found. So I tried this. WATCH has heard of Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz and Donald McCullin. Almost anyone less well known it has no clue about. All one can infer from this WATCH database is that only famous photographers are safe from being considered unlocatable and their work orphans. So then what, the intending user copies the alleged orphans to the MILE database (though so far there doesn't appear to be an upload facility), and after a reasonable period during which time someone might recognise the photo and who it's by, then it may be considered an orphan and usage legitimate? They have to be kidding, surely?