Leading members of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees today introduced legislation that would make more copyrighted works available for licensing even if the copyright owners cannot be found.

Under the bills, potential users of these so-called "orphan works" could use a copyrighted work if, after a thorough, documented search, the user is unable to locate the copyright owner. The legislation outlines the criteria for such a search, and provides for court review to determine if a search has been adequate and done in good faith. If the copyright owner later emerges, the user must pay reasonable compensation to the owner - but would avoid liability for copyright infringement.

The bill also includes provisions to further protect owners of these orphaned copyrights, should any user exhibit bad faith.

The Senate version of the bill, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008, was introduced by chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The House bill, the Orphan Works Act of 2008 (H.R. 5889), was introduced by chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.

"This legislation will help bring together potential users and owners of orphan works," says Leahy. "But also as important, it will allow the public to view works that may remain orphaned. A Vermonter can restore a family photograph from three generations ago, even when the original photographer is no longer available to give permission. With this bill, we can preserve important parts of our personal and national heritage without giving a free license to infringe on established copyright protections."

Leahy says the bill was named after Shawn Bentley, who once served as intellectual property counsel for Hatch before dying tragically at a young age. "It was he who first inspired this effort on orphan works," says Leahy. "Naming this bill for him is a testament to his dedication to the issue and his value to the Judiciary Committee."

"Too many valuable works are unused because their creators are unknown, and potential users fear excessive liability," says Berman. "We must act to lower the legal barriers that keep these works from the public."

Leahy, Hatch, Berman and Smith have longstanding interests in intellectual property issues.