Craven LovelaceKAFM NOTESGrand Junction Free Press Music Columnist

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February 21, 2013
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CRAVEN: Adopting the orphans

Everyone (and everything) needs a home.Take Savannah Churchill, for instance. In 1947, Savannah - a Brooklyn-raised singer so gorgeous they called her "sex-sational" on her posters - scored a major hit with a song called "I Want to Be Loved (But Only By You)." It was a smash. It spent eight weeks at the top of Billboard's R&B chart.Well, good luck trying to find it now.Oh, you can probably track down the version Savannah re-recorded in the '50s for the Jamie label. But you're not likely to find the original, which was released on a label called Manor Records. That's because no one knows who owns the copyrights to Manor's songs any more. They are orphan works.We talked about the problem of orphan works in this space last week. It's a serious issue that is preventing great works (like the records of Savannah Churchill) from securing their rightful place in the history of popular music, art, film and literature. So what do we do about orphan works? In the mid-2000s, Google thought it had an answer: It would just take 'em.Starting in 2004, Google began to scan books as part of a plan to create an enormous database of books, which Google could eventually sell. Five years later, the corporation had scanned over seven million books. It had also been sued by publishers and authors' groups for having violated quite a few copyrights.But in November 2008, Google reached a settlement with the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild that would allow Google to scan and post orphan works. The company would be required to hold back money in an escrow account in case a copyright holder ever came forward, but was otherwise free to publish works for which an author or rights possessor could not be found.But the U.S. District Court in New York put the kibosh on that agreement in 2011, ruling that the agreement between Google and the publishers and authors represented an end-run around Congress' responsibilities to administer copyright laws. And with that judgment, the problem of orphan works was back.Since then, there have been several proposals to address the issue. Some companies are following Google's lead in simply making orphan works available for sale, but holding back monies in case a copyright owner eventually emerges. This is the path Amoeba Records, the California independent record store chain, has chosen with their new "Vinyl Vaults" online store, which offers obscure vinyl oldies as digital releases. However, this may prove a costly mistake for Amoeba. Having spent millions of dollars and six years building Vinyl Vaults, they may well find themselves on the wrong side of the law should a copyright holder object in the courts.We'll explore some of the other solutions offered by various parties to the orphan works problem next week, when we conclude our series on the subject. In the meantime, go check out the music of the very talented Savannah Churchill - or at least what music of hers you can find. Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.


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The Post Independent Updated Feb 21, 2013 03:03PM Published Feb 21, 2013 03:02PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.