February 25, 2005 · Lessig
I dumped the following into the veins of the email system, one to each person who had signed a petition asking for reform of the copyright system.
Sorry about the intrusion, but an important opportunity has come up for you to have a positive impact on the direction of copyright law and I wanted to let you know about it directly. Thanks to some prodding by a couple of great US Senators, the copyright office is currently considering whether to recommend changes to copyright law that will make it easier and cheaper for you to use “orphaned works” — works that remain under copyright but whose “owner” can’t be found. As many of you have written me, this is a real problem that affects thousands of innovative people every year. But the copyright office still needs some convincing.
To convince them, we need your help. If you have a relevant story, or a perspective that might help the Copyright Office evaluate this issue, I would be grateful if you took just a few minutes to write an email telling them your story. The most valuable submissions will make clear the practical burden the existing system creates. (One of my favorite stories is about a copy-shop’s refusal to enlarge a 60 year old photo from an elementary school year book for a eulogy because the copyright owner couldn’t be found.) Describe instances where you wanted to use a work, but couldn’t find the owner to ask permission. Explain how that impacted your ability to create. Or pass this email on to someone who you know might have a useful story to add.
The Copyright Office is already overworked and understaffed, so I’m not asking that you stuff their inbox with demands for action, or anything like that. They are not Congress. They are not even the FCC. Their role here is as fact-finder, so “just the facts, ma’am.” (Oops, do I need permission to use that?)
Everything you need to do this is online at http://eldred.cc. We’ve explained exactly what the copyright office is asking for, how and where to submit your email, and provided some examples of stories we’ve heard from others about how their creativity has been stalled when they’ve tried to use orphan works. If you have questions, there’s a contact email there for people who can help you out.
In spite of my usual pessimism, I think we have a real opportunity here to move the law in a positive direction. Please help us “promote the Progress of Science” (and that text is in the public domain), by
showing the Copyright Office where unnecessary regulation hampers progress.
Stupidly, I did the sending myself, and so stupidly (but predictably), I failed to click the signature box, so it didn’t have the requisite “opt out link.” That was a mistake, and I apologize for it, but the missive brought a bunch of angry emails about my “spamming” them.
Those complaints evince the unfortunate shift in meaning of the term “spam.” As my post does not ask for money or propose a commercial transaction, it is non-commercial. It is therefore bulk email, but not, in my view, spam. More importantly, while people should do what I stupidly didn’t do (include an opt-out option), and people should not do what I’ve not done (abuse a list — this is the second time in almost two years that I’ve used the list), we should not be stigmatizing the use of bulk mail for political or policy related purposes.