Graduation and Help Support Artist's Rights

Tuesday, April 29th was the last day of classes for the year at Ringling, and on Friday the qualifying seniors walked across the stage to receive their diploma cases. (The real diplomas are in the mail.) As my name was called, I was elated and deeply gratified to hear my friends, faculty, administration, and family cheering and clapping for me. In the final hour, it still felt more like everyone was just leaving for the summer, and we'd all be back in the fall. But no, not this time around, and I'm happy to walk away with connections to an amazing group of people whom I will support and who will support me.

The photo is of me and my parents, Dave and Deb, in the big purple building known as the Van Wezel, with my new diploma case.

After officially becoming a working professional, my fellow artists and I are now faced with a challenge to the intellectual copyrights of our work. Two bills about U.S. Orphan Works have been introduced to the Senate and the House. From the Illustrators' Partnership of America, "The Orphan Works Act will affect all images from professional paintings to family snapshots. This includes any image, whether published or unpublished - or any that resides or ever resided on the internet. It will force [the artist] to register every image [made] with privately-held commercial registries. All unregistered works will be exposed as potential orphans for commercial infringement."

The bills infringe on current individual creator rights and laws which are necessary for visual artists to successfully maintain their businesses and protect their work. At this time, the moment an artist creates a piece, that piece is under the copyright of the artist. The artist is then protected from others stealing their work without having to register the piece with the U.S. Copyright Office and paying the incurring fees. The wording and definitions of the Orphan Works Bills are too broad, and if passed, individual, self-employed artists would suffer in their attempts to protect the copyright of their own work through fees and actions that are unreasonable to sustain. The IPA provides information about the bills and makes it easy to fight against them.

Please take two minutes and help protect artist rights by filling out an email take action form to your Senator in opposition to S.2913, and an email take action form to your Congressman in opposition to H.R.5889.

So far, through the IPA over 68,000 email messages have been sent. I have sent my letters, and, for good or for bad, I have received the responses as follow.

"Dear Ms. Sweep:

Thank you for contacting me regarding copyright protection issues and the development of digital media.

As you know, many bills introduced in the 110th Congress address legal issues surrounding licensing, digital reproduction, and distribution of artistic works. As a pro-consumer Senator, I believe it is important that our laws adapt to new technologies, with the aim of increasing consumers' access to the widest possible range of digital media. At the same time, I support efforts to stop the illegal piracy of copyrighted materials and ensure that copyright holders are compensated fairly.

I appreciate hearing your views and will keep them in mind as this issue is debated before the Senate. If you have any additional concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me in the future.

Senator Bill Nelson"

"Dear Ms. Sweep:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Orphan Works Act. I appreciate hearing from you and would like to respond to your concerns.

Patent rights and the protection of intellectual property are the fundamental building blocks of commerce and innovation in our country. I believe that artists and innovators should be fairly compensated for their work, and that reasonable efforts to find and reward these individuals should be made before allowing works to be used or copied by others.

On April 24, 2008, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008 (S.2913). An orphan work is a copyrighted work where it is difficult or impossible to contact the copyright holder. The establishment of the Orphan Works Act would provide restrictions and limitations to the remedies that could be awarded to those involved in copyright infringement that entail orphan works. This bill would require that the infringer takes diligent effort to locate the author of the infringed copy before using the work and require a Notice of Use to be filed with the Register of Copyrights before the work was used.

The bill specifies that monetary relief may not be made for damages, costs and attorney's fees, however reasonable monetary compensation can be made to the owner of the patent or copyright. Other limitations include that compensation may not be collected if the infringer is a non-profit educational institution, museum, library, archives, or public broadcasting entity. S.2913 was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Although I do not serve on this Committee, I can assure you I will keep your comments in mind as we proceed in the 110th Congress.

Representative Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced similar legislation (H.R. 5889) in the U.S. House of Representatives. H.R.5889 was referred to the House Committee on Judiciary, where it awaits further approval.

Again, thank you for sharing your views with me. If you have any additional questions or comments, please do not hesitate to let me know. In addition, for more information about issues and activities important to Florida, please sign up for my weekly newsletter at http://martinez.senate.gov.


Mel Martinez
United States Senator"