Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, June 23, 2011

U-M Library to share HathiTrust orphan works

U-M Library users soon will have access to digital versions of some of the thousands of orphan works held in common by the U-M Library and the HathiTrust Digital Library. Making these works available in HathiTrust will render them fully searchable, viewable, and accessible to U-M researchers wherever there is a connection to the Internet.

This marks the next phase in the library's orphan works project, following last month's announcement that the MLibrary Copyright Office has begun identifying orphan works from among the millions of in-copyright digitized books in the HathiTrust Digital Library.

Making these orphan works accessible to the U-M community will begin to unlock that large portion of the 20th-century scholarly and cultural digital record that is in copyright and unavailable because copyright holders cannot be found or contacted.

The library's intent is to foster these works, and make them available so they can be used. Paul Courant, university librarian and dean of libraries, says it is integral to the library's overall mission to preserve and share the scholarly and cultural record, and is in keeping with the intent of copyright law, which is to promote progress. He also says that this sharing of orphan works falls within copyright law's "fair use" provision (specifically, section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976).

"The work we're talking about is not commercial, and most of it never was," Courant says. "It's scholarly work, of interest mainly to students, faculty, and researchers, who, these days, expect to be able to access much of their research material digitally, and from locations other than the library."

He adds that sharing these orphan works does no economic harm to any person or organization, while not doing so harms scholarship and learning by severely limiting access to 20th-century works.

Access to orphan works will be limited to U-M authenticated users and visitors to the campus libraries in Ann Arbor, and to works that the library holds in its print collection. In other words, the same population that can check out these works from the library's print collection now will be able to read the digital copies from other locations.

According to John Wilkin, associate university librarian and executive director of HathiTrust, other institutions among the HathiTrust's more than 50 partners, including the University of Wisconsin, are moving forward with similar plans to share digitized orphan works from their own collections.

Wilkin also explains that the orphan works identification activity is an extension of the grant-funded Copyright Review Management System, which examines U.S. works published between 1923-63 to determine whether they are in copyright. That work began at U-M, and now includes reviewers at Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Minnesota. Of the more than 135,000 volumes reviewed thus far, approximately 46 percent are in copyright.

The orphan works project begins with this 46 percent; and the task of identifying true orphan works from among millions of in-copyright volumes eventually will be shared by other HathiTrust partner institutions.

The identification work now is being carried out at U-M under the auspices of the MLibrary Copyright Office. The process is documented online at Every prospective orphan work's bibliographic information will be listed in the HathiTrust Digital Library and on the MLibrary website for 90 days, after which, if no copyright holder emerges, it will be made accessible to U-M users.

The library expects that some of these works will be accessible to the U-M community by early October.

Wilkin says, "If a copyright holder makes a legitimate claim to a work, we'll honor that claim." He adds that copyright holders, especially scholars, often are eager to make their out-of-print works available in HathiTrust.

But there's good reason to suppose that the majority of prospective orphan works will remain orphans. Courant says, "These works were written to be read, and we now have the means to increase the chances that they will be read."