University of Michigan suspends HathiTrust Orphan Works Project. Claims “proposed uses of orphan works are lawful,” and promises a reboot.

The 163 books on Orphan Row have a reprieve.  In a statement released this morning, the University of Michigan Library announced the suspension. “The close and welcome scrutiny of the list of potential orphan works has revealed a number of errors, some of them serious. This tells us that our pilot process is flawed.”

Michigan pledged to re-examine its procedures and create a “more robust, transparent, and fully documented process” and continue the project:  “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.”

Michigan says that its main purpose has been to identify copyright owners:

“It was always our belief that we would be more likely to succeed with the cooperation and assistance of authors and publishers. This turns out to be correct. The widespread dissemination of the list has had the intended effect: rights holders have been identified, which is in fact the project’s primary goal. And as a result of the design of our process, our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material.”

In the past few days, the Authors Guild, its members, and those commenting on this blog have identified or found leads, many quite strong, to the owners of the literary property rights to 50 of the books that Michigan planned to start releasing for downloading by hundreds of thousands of students in four weeks.  (Additional list of literary property leads here.)  Four of the authors of the so-called orphan books are alive, including one who signed an e-book deal earlier this month, and two of the books are in print, one in a revised edition.  For 14 of the literary works, the spouses or children of the authors were identified, mostly through quick and simple online searches for obituaries.  Five of those obituaries had quite current information about the location of the authors’ survivors, since the authors had died in the last ten years.  One, André Missenard, died just last month in Paris.

Comments: more
  • Marc

    One more tiny bookseller rant.  In looking at the flowchart I referred to below
    again, I see that the first step actually is to transfer “author and publisher”
    information to a spreadsheet.  I hope that at some point in the process, the
    researcher actually holds the physical book in hand.  In my business, I won’t
    list a book online without the actual book next to the keyboard- there’s too
    much that can be missed.  Dust jackets can help enormously, too, in figuring out
    what a book “is” and who the author was or is.  Of course, libraries very seldom
    keep dust jackets.

  • Marc

    One more tiny bookseller rant.  In looking at the flowchart I referred to below
    again, I see that the first step actually is to transfer “author and publisher”
    information to a spreadsheet.  I hope that at some point in the process, the
    researcher actually holds the physical book in hand.  In my business, I won’t
    list a book online without the actual book next to the keyboard- there’s too
    much that can be missed.  Dust jackets can help enormously, too, in figuring out
    what a book “is” and who the author was or is.  Of course, libraries very seldom
    keep dust jackets.

  • Marc

    As a longtime used bookseller, here is my question.  According to their own
    protocol

    http://www.lib.umich.edu/orphan-works/documentation

    the first step in the orphan designation process is for two people to
    independently check Amazon, then Bookfinder.  If a work is “available via”
    either, the flowchart says “stop, not an orphan.”  I might interpret this as a
    proxy for in-print status for Amazon, but the use of Bookfinder seems to suggest
    that availability of secondhand copies should stop the process.

     

    And yet, when I just checked Abebooks (only one of Bookfinder’s many searched
    sites) for five titles at random, three of the five had multiple copies
    available used, starting in the $10-15 range.  What gives?
     

  • Marc

    As a longtime used bookseller, here is my question.  According to their own
    protocol

    http://www.lib.umich.edu/orphan-works/documentation

    the first step in the orphan designation process is for two people to
    independently check Amazon, then Bookfinder.  If a work is “available via”
    either, the flowchart says “stop, not an orphan.”  I might interpret this as a
    proxy for in-print status for Amazon, but the use of Bookfinder seems to suggest
    that availability of secondhand copies should stop the process.

     

    And yet, when I just checked Abebooks (only one of Bookfinder’s many searched
    sites) for five titles at random, three of the five had multiple copies
    available used, starting in the $10-15 range.  What gives?
     

  • http://twitter.com/PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu

    Congratulations. You have killed or at least delayed a project which could have benefited hundreds of thousands of people so that your members can be paid again and again and again without having to do any more work. Great job!

  • http://twitter.com/PrometheeFeu PrometheeFeu

    Congratulations. You have killed or at least delayed a project which could have benefited hundreds of thousands of people so that your members can be paid again and again and again without having to do any more work. Great job!

  • http://www.davidsanger.com David Sanger

    This is really interesting because it shows that a concerted, public, transparent, ongoing crowd-sourced diligent search can go a long way towards reducing the number of books considered as possible “orphans.” After all, it is a finite list of books to be researched.

  • http://www.davidsanger.com David Sanger

    This is really interesting because it shows that a concerted, public, transparent, ongoing crowd-sourced diligent search can go a long way towards reducing the number of books considered as possible “orphans.” After all, it is a finite list of books to be researched.

  • Gailkgodwin

    Good for you, Author’s Guild.  How can I contribute to the costs of such a worthy project?  Gail Godwin

  • Gailkgodwin

    Good for you, Author’s Guild.  How can I contribute to the costs of such a worthy project?  Gail Godwin

  • http://twitter.com/amandafrench Amanda French

    And now to determine whether those authors actually are the rightsholders for these books.

  • http://twitter.com/amandafrench Amanda French

    And now to determine whether those authors actually are the rightsholders for these books.