British Invasion: Importing the United Kingdom’s Orphan Works Solution to United States Copyright Law

Bunce, Abigail | October 1, 2013

A vast amount of American cultural works are left unused and inaccessible to the public because under copyright law, they are considered to be orphan works: their owners cannot be identified or located, and so permission to use the works cannot be obtained. While orphan works have been most frequently discussed in the context of mass digitization like the Google Books Project, they present problems beyond book digitization and beyond American borders. Recent foreign efforts to solve the orphan works issue have resulted in an EU Directive, which in turn resulted in a U.K. Act to provide a licensing scheme for orphan works. The U.S. must not fall behind in providing for an orphan works solution. This Note argues that the U.S. should look to the U.K.’s Act as a framework for enacting its own legislation. The U.K. is a suitable guide because the two nations share an underlying economic rationale for their copyright regimes. Moreover, the U.K. has more than one hundred years’ experience in adapting its copyright laws to achieve international harmonization. By passing legislation that comports with international principles, the U.S. can protect the interests of its creators and users abroad and maintain an influential position in shaping global copyright policy.