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There’s a lot of hooha at the moment about the way copyright protection for artwork is being eroded in the US. This is mainly over proposed legislation that will strip copyright protection from “orphan” works, i.e. copyrighted artwork where the owner of copyright cannot be traced. The proposed legislation would enable anyone to reproduce a piece of artwork for free by claiming they can’t find the copyright owner. Not only does it threaten the copyright of artists, it creates a rival market of “free” old artwork.

This isn’t the place to go into great detail of the ins and outs, however the Illustrator’s Partnership of America is running a worthy campaign against the legislation.

At first I thought “ah so what, that’s America, I’m in Japan”, but then it dawned on me that this legislation actually effects artists all over the world, in fact our very distance from the US would make us vulnerable to copyright infringement. “Out of sight, out of mind” so to speak – anyone could claim in the US that they “found” my picture, couldn’t trace me, and I would have little way to demand recompense. Even if I won a court case the bill proposes a flat compensation fee, maximum payout being, frankly, a joke.

I’m not anti-American, on the contrary some of my most trusted clients are in the States and I have many friends there. However I’m appaulled by the increasing tendency towards “dog eat dog”, with the powerful getting stronger and the weaker getting weaker, which I rarely see in Japan or the UK. A kind of “stomp on the other guy before they stomp on you” mentality of protectionism, might is right, one step out of line and you’ve a law suit on your hands.

Here’s a very interesting comic put together to explain US copyright in simple terms and the harrowing traumas faced by documentary film makers.

To all appearances copyright in the US seems screwed up at both ends of the scale. On the one hand you have the “rights monsters” as mentioned in the comic where corporate companies assert that nobody nowhere can use even a pinch of their “property” without being bankrupted with a hefty fine, while on the opposite extreme new legislation aims to strip copyright protection from artists and other individuals.

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