The University of Michigan Library recently announced that the California Digital Library (CDL), one of the world’s largest digital research libraries, is joining its grant-funded effort to identify public domain volumes from among the more than ten million volumes that reside in HathiTrust.
The U-M Library’s copyright determination work first began in 2008 with a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to create a copyright review management system (CRMS). The CRMS process has since identified 156,915 public domain volumes, which are now fully viewable in HathiTrust, from among the 295,411 that were reviewed.
Until recently the CRMS process was confined to works published in the United States between 1923-1963, many of which are in the public domain because they either did not meet the copyright requirements of the time (which included registration), or because their copyrights were not renewed (copyrights then lasted 28 years, with the option to renew for an additional 28).
In 2011, the library received an additional IMLS Leadership Grant of nearly $1 million—the largest the library has ever received—to continue this work by developing robust and replicable copyright review systems that can be deployed by partner institutions. This new phase also extends the review process to books published in other countries, where copyright terms are typically defined by the number of years—usually 70—from the date of the death of the author.
This international work will begin with English language works published in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Spain, and will be extended to include more countries and languages as the necessary resources and partners are identified.
The project now has 16 research library partners—including CDL—that have committed their own resources, mainly staff time. It also has the support of several non-partner institutions, among them the Library of Congress and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Biblioteca Complutense.
Laine Farley, Executive Director of the CDL, says, “The California Digital Library is extremely pleased to be able to participate in this ground-breaking collaborative effort to identify works in our collections that are out of copyright and which can be made fully accessible in digital form to students, scholars, and the reading public.”
According to Melissa Levine, the library’s lead copyright officer and principal investigator on the current grant, the commitment of scarce library resources by CDL and the other partners testifies to the importance of the work. “Determining the copyright status of these digitized volumes will enable libraries worldwide to make better use of their collections to serve the public,” says Levine. Further, she says the CRMS project has already assembled the most authoritative data on the aggregate copyright status of works published in the U.S. between 1923-1963. “Until now, any estimates on the numbers of public domain or orphan works in this corpus have been based on little more than speculation.”
Paul Courant, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries, affirms the importance of the project to libraries, scholars, and the public. “There are potentially millions of books in library collections that are in the public domain, and now that technology makes it possible to share them widely, it’s the library’s obligation to do so.” He adds that doing so fulfills both the needs of scholars and the implied promise to copyright holders that their works can remain a part of public and scholarly discourse far beyond their commercial lives.