Copyright Office Struggles With Copyright Clearances

AP runs a story about “copyright oddities”–interesting historical materials on deposit with the Library of Congress. The oddities include items like a photo of a blood-stained program from Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot and a video of Henry Ford winning a car race in 1901. If this was the “oddest” material the researchers could find in the vaults, then (a) they didn’t look very hard, or (b) the Patent Office appears to have more fun.

In any case, the Library of Congress (which operates the Copyright Office) would like to put on an exhibit of these historical oddities. The only problem–they may still be under copyright! The researchers held a private exhibition, trying to avoid a public display or exhibition. However, to disseminate the materials more broadly, the Library of Congress must obtain clearance–which, as the article points out, involves tracking down heirs and subsequent buyers and potentially paying royalties. Who better to do copyright clearances than the Copyright Office? Sadly, as they know, copyright clearances are a frustrating exercise in futility. Perhaps their frustration with doing copyright clearances will increase momentum for an orphan works exception.

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