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Busy Bees Work Behind Bureaucracy's Door


If you visit Washington, D.C., or any capital city, you'll see lots of big government buildings in which bureaucrats are busy doing something or another between smoking breaks. You can pretty much guess what kind of work goes on at the Bureau of Mines or the Food Safety and Inspection Service. But what does something like the Office of Insular Affairs do?

Or to take another example, consider the U.S. Copyright Office. Ever since 1978, when the law changed, you don't even need to register your play or book or photograph. From the moment you commit it to paper, you hold the copyright on it for your entire life -- plus 70 more years.

So why do we need all those worker bees at the Copyright Office, which is part of the Library of Congress? We do because federal law says authors do need to send one or two copies of their finished works to the Library. It may keep them, but even if it pitches your masterpiece into the trash, some civil servant at the Copyright Office must look it over.

And now the Copyright office has published a 127-page report -- not counting page after page of footnotes -- on something called orphan works, so the Copyright folks are even busier.

Orphan works are copyrighted stories or images that somebody would like to use, but can't find the copyright owner to ask for permission. Near the end of the report, you learn that it's OK to use these orphan works if you've made a good-faith effort to find their creator.

We could go on and on -- and on and on -- about orphan works, of course, which is exactly what the Copyright Office does in its reports. In the unlikely event you ever read it, you'll get an inkling of what bureaucrats in those big, nondescript buildings do all day long.

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