Orphan Works Project - FAQ

Project status update, July 2012: The process of identifying orphan works from the specified period (that is, works published in the US between 1923-1963) continues. There are no plans to provide access to these works.
  1. What exactly is an "orphan work?"
  2. Why did you initiate this project to identify orphan works and make them accessible to the U-M community?
  3. Why not open these works to the general public, instead of just the U-M community?
  4. How exactly do you determine that a given work is truly “orphaned?”
  5. How does this policy affect my copyright to my own work?
  6. Who is paying for the orphans works identification work?
  7. What's involved in joining this part of the effort?
  8. How can I help?

 


Q: What exactly is an “orphan work?”
A: An orphan work is an in-copyright work whose copyright holder cannot be found or contacted. The copyright owner might be a person who died without making provisions for the work, or a business that no longer exists.

Q: Why did you initiate this project to identify orphan works and make them accessible to the U-M community?
A: John Wilkin, executive director of HathiTrust, has estimated that as many as 50% of the volumes in the HathiTrust Digital Library may be orphan works. Foundationally, the purpose of copyright law according to the U.S. Constitution, is to “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Specifically, there are certain provisions in US copyright law that permit making uses of in-copyright works. Further, we firmly believe this is a legitimate and reasonable exercise of fair use. We also believe that making these works available to scholars and researchers is far more likely to align with the wishes of their lost copyright holders than it is to do economic harm to any person or entity.

Q: Why not open these works to the general public, instead of just the U-M community?
A: Keep in mind that we’re only opening the digitized volumes of books that the U-M Library holds in its print collection. These volumes aren’t available for checkout to the general public; likewise, their digital analogs won’t be available to the general public. However, visitors to the Library, which is open to the public, will have access from Library computers.

Q: How exactly do you determine that a given work is truly “orphaned?”
A: The process is illustrated in the charts available on the Orphan Works project page. Note that two different people follow the same workflow for each volume, which is a built-in protection against making errors. We attempt to make contact with the potential copyright holder via two (and sometimes three) different ways. If we make contact with a potential rights holder and they assert that they are still in fact the rights holder for the work, it is not an orphan. If we can not make contact with a potential rights holder or the potential rights holder does not assert that she holds the rights, then only at that time do we consider the work an orphan.

Of special note is the fact that a list of potential orphans will be made available for 90 days before they are opened. If, at any time, a legitimate copyright holder approaches us we will remove their work from our pool of potential orphans (as it is no longer an orphan). In addition, if at any time after a work has been identified as an orphan and made readable to the U-M scholarly community a legitimate copyright holder approaches us, we will remove the copyright holder’s work from the program.

Q: How does this policy affect my copyright to my own work?
A: Not at all. Nor does it in any way affect the copyright status of the identified orphan works. No one other than the copyright holder can change a work’s copyright status, or assign rights to it. If you think your work is at risk of being incorrectly identified as an orphan, please send an email to copyright@umich.edu with the title of the work, the URL of the work, and any information you have that will help us correctly determine the copyright and orphan status of the work.

Q: Who is paying for the orphans works identification work?
A: HathiTrust is funding the identification work. HathiTrust is a partnership of more than fifty major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future.


Q: What's involved in joining this part of the effort?
The first and most important thing is ensuring you have the support of your institution.  What that means will differ by institution, but typically involves a conversation with counsel and chief academic officers.  Your institution will also be required to sign an addendum to your current agreement with HathiTrust.  This site will provide a link to that addendum as soon as it is complete.

Q: How can I help? 
The initiative is currently in a pilot mode designed to refine a sense of workflow and specific unexpected challenges.  We will seek funding for the development of a system (cf. the CRMS) that manages queues and coordinates activity across institutions.  Until this system is in place, we are not positioned to incorporate contributions from other institutions.  However, with the system in place, we hope that partners will devote staff to making determinations.

Page maintained by Melissa Levine
Last modified: 03/17/2013