The University of Michigan Library and several other major academic libraries are partnering with the HathiTrust Digital Library to try and do what Google cannot: develop a searchable library of scanned books, including so-called “orphan works,” from the resources in the libraries’ existing print collections. This Orphan Works Project could result in digital access to millions of out-of-print books, but it also runs a risk of violating federal copyright laws.
Joining Michigan and the HathiTrust in the Orphan Works Project are the libraries at Cornell, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, and the Universities of Florida, Wisconsin, and California. Each of the libraries will identify and then scan materials from their collections that are no longer in print and for which the copyright owner cannot be identified or located. These materials have taken on the name “orphan works” because they remain copyrighted under U.S. law, but have no identifiable copyright owner to contact for permission to digitize, reprint, or otherwise use. Consequently, they sit languishing on library shelves and are essentially lost to the digital revolution.