September 5, 2011

Cornell Library Adopts Orphan Works Project

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The Cornell Library, along with libraries at Duke, Johns Hopkins and Emory, announced on Aug. 24 that it will make thousands of “orphan works” digitally accessible to its patrons through an online database. Before they were identified as orphan works, these works sat on library shelves and were not digitally available to Cornell’s students, faculty and researchers due to questions about their copyright status. Now that they have been identified as orphan works —  out-of-print books that are “still subject to copyright but whose copyright holders cannot be identified or located” — the University can legally reproduce and digitize the work without worrying about copyright infringement,  according to a library press release. Making orphan works accessible “continues our tradition of pushing hard to open up scholarly resources and helping to provide the broadest access possible to them,”  University Librarian Anne Kenney said.This announcement adds the library to a group of academic institutions including University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin and the University of Florida that has pioneered the Orphan Works Project.The Orphan Works Project operates through the HathiTrust Digital Library — a collective partnership of more than 50 research institutions — to identify orphan works. HathiTrust works “to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future,” according to its website. Books that are classified as orphan works and owned in print by a Cornell library will be digitally accessible to the Cornell community through the HathiTrust website by entering a valid Net ID and password.With its multi-million volume archive, HathiTrust initially teamed up with the Copyright Office at the University of Michigan Library in May 2011 to begin identifying its body of orphan works — a collection of books that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, according to the HathiTrust website.Kevin Smith, scholarly communications officer at Duke, said he anticipates that access to tens of thousands of orphan works will be made available to members of participating institutions “within the first year.” Students and faculty may submit titles from Cornell’s libraries to the Copyright Office at the University of Michigan for digitization, according to Peter Hirtle, senior policy advisor for the Cornell library. Since the library’s announcement, the Orphan Works Project website lists seven titles that are owned in print by Cornell and are now availible to Cornell students and faculty online.  Hirtle noted that the University has shown its willingness “to take a risk” by joining the Orphan Works Project.“We needed the support of the counsel’s office and the Provost to do this,” he said. “If we or [the University of] Michigan got the orphan work determination wrong … the copyright holder could sue us for infringement.”A recent article by Jeff Roberts on, an online publication that follows the economics of digital content, echoes Hirtle’s concerns about copyright. “In theory, the plan could be a risky one for the schools,” Roberts writes.  “Law firms that specialize in copyright trolling could … sue for unauthorized reproduction of the works. Under the statutory damages provisions of the Copyright Act, plaintiffs are entitled to between $750 to $30,000 for each act of infringement.” Despite legal concerns, those close to the library said that the Orphan Works collaboration represents a step in the right direction for Cornell. “This brings us just that much closer to our goal of having a digital version of everything in our library,” Hirtle said. “Although we still want people to come in and read it here.”

Original Author: Eli Grossman