Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Thoughts on Orphans

Peter Brantley has a thoughtful piece on digitization and orphan works. The essay is a prelude to a series of articles he edited for the journal Library Trends (Link).

Here is a sample from his introductory essay:
Like many, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the availability of books in online searchable repositories, and the likely outcomes for publishers, libraries, and the public. I have even been considering the impact of a rapprochement between publishers, authors, and Google over books whose availability is most savagely contested, largely because their legal status has been brought into a hazy dawn of uncertainty by the startling recent shifts in availability that catch them stranded between public goods and private property.

A significant portion of these implicated works are likely to be out-of-print, of uncertain copyright status, and no longer present in any publisher’s archive—available only in the less-visited shelves of the largest research libraries. This substantial category, numbering in the millions of books, would undoubtedly incorporate a large number of what are called “orphan works,” where the presence of any identifiable copyright owner in the work, or its constituent parts, is not known, and resilient to easy resolution as a result of poorly recorded mergers and acquisitions, lost archival contracts, publisher insolvency, and myriad other reasons. In turn, some of this orphan material is almost certainly public domain; the original copyright never renewed, and long since expired.

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