About two minutes of googling turned up a professor emeritus of one of the HathiTrust “orphan works” candidates. He lives in suburban Maryland. His second book sold a reported one million copies, and he’s listed in IMDb (two of his books were turned into movies: one starred Elvis Presley, the other Warren Beatty). He has a literary agent, and he signed an e-book contract earlier this month.
No, we’re not making this up.
Just before we filed our lawsuit, we did some cursory research into some of the names on the list of "orphan works" candidates at the HathiTrust website to see if we could find contact information for a copyright holder. There are now 166 books (the original 27 listed by Michigan in July plus others added in August by various institutions) being readied for distribution. Works deemed “orphans” by HathiTrust are scheduled to be available for full-text display and unencrypted downloads to at least 250,000 students and faculty members at campuses in several states, starting in less than a month.
We weren't hopeful, because we knew that research librarians were behind the project, and they were likely to be especially careful to avoid any embarrassing slip-ups in this first go-round. We thought, at best, we might find the representative of some obscure literary estate. We were wrong.
Here’s what we did. It took two steps.
Step #1. We googled “book author [author name].”
This turned up, on the first page of results, a July 24, 2000, Publishers Weekly interview with the author. The interview mentions the name of his literary agent.
Step #2. We looked up the literary agent in a standard online phone directory.
We found the number and called. We spoke to the agent’s wife. She confirmed that her husband represented the author, who lives in Maryland. A couple hours later, the agent called us back. He had no idea his client’s first book, “The Lost Country” (the one made into the Elvis Presley movie), was headed to the orphanage in a few weeks. He wasn’t happy. He told us that his client had just signed an agreement to release his second book, “Lilith” (the one made into the Warren Beatty movie), as an e-book by Tantor Media.
The author is J.R. Salamanca. His agent is John White of the John White Literary Agency in Connecticut.
The next day, it was the day before yesterday, we spoke to Richard Salamanca, the son of the author. (Jack Salamanca has a hearing problem, so Richard handles phone duties.) He told us that he, too, hadn't heard of the HathiTrust Orphan Works Project and was stunned to learn that his father's first book was set to be released online to hundreds of thousands of students.
All told, it took us two-and-a-half minutes, give or take, to reach the agent’s wife.
Mr. Salamanca is a professor emeritus of the University of Maryland. He's listed in the current University of Maryland graduate school catalog. He lives in Maryland, just as he has for decades.
"The Lost Country" became a movie in 1961, "Wild in the Country," starring Elvis Presley, Hope Lange and Tuesday Weld. "Lilith" (1964) stars Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg (nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress), Peter Fonda, and Kim Hunter. Mr. Salamanca has a brief entry in IMDb, which links to the two movies.
There are other ways to find J.R. Salamanca, of course.
Alternative #1. The librarian we have on staff uses Contemporary Authors, a standard reference. It lists Mr. Salamanca’s office at the English Department of the University of Maryland in College Park.
Alternative #2. Google "j.r. salamanca," which brings up as the second result on the first page a 1969 Time Magazine review for his third book, "A Sea Change" ("J.R. Salamanca succeeds in finding an appropriate vehicle for his insights and his fluid poetic prose"). That article reports that the author teaches English at the University of Maryland. A phone call or e-mail to the department should have done the trick.
If HathiTrust's researchers can't locate a bestselling author with a literary agent, an author who’s also a retired professor from a major East Coast university, how are they going to locate authors in other countries? How will they find an author of a work in Finnish (more than 4,000 books in the collection), Hindi (more than 35,000 books), or Japanese (more than 150,000 books)?
Few of the authors of those books would have had the successes of Jack Salamanca. But countless of them, no doubt, would want to maintain control of their works.