Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, September 26, 2011

U-M Library Orphan Works Project undaunted by lawsuit

The U-M Library continues to operate its nascent Orphan Works Project “because we remain as certain as ever that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful and important to the future of scholarship and the libraries that support it.”

That’s the position of University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Paul Courant, who also says that, contrary to some erroneous reports, the library is continuing its digitization efforts along with improving the orphan works identification process. “We have not changed our plans or activities in any way as a result of the Authors Guild lawsuit,” says Courant.

The Orphan Works Project is an effort to identify the rights holders of out-of-print U.S. works published between 1923-63. The university intends to share digitized online versions of orphan works — that is, works whose rights holders cannot be identified or contacted — with authenticated U-M users via the HathiTrust Digital Library when copies also reside in its print collection.

Courant says that the recent effort the Authors Guild has made to publicize the list of orphan works candidates has had a salutary effect on the project, which has from the beginning sought the aid of authors and publishers, including the guild.

Several rights holders have been discovered via the scrutiny of people who were alerted to the list by the guild’s blog and other outreach efforts. This scrutiny also revealed opportunities to improve the library’s pilot process to identify rights holders, which Courant says will make that process more robust and accurate.

“We knew that the knowledge base and outreach capacity of authors and publishers would help us better achieve the project goal of identifying copyright holders,” he explains. He also says that it’s unfortunate that these endeavors came only in the wake of the guild’s lawsuit, which he has called “misguided and unnecessary.”

“Litigation, especially between organizations that share common ground in service to creative and scholarly work, is surely counterproductive to the goals of all parties,” Courant says. Further, he says that the discussions with the guild were under way when the lawsuit was filed.