Following the filing of a lawsuit over its scanning and orphan works initiative, HathiTrust this morning said it would suspend indefinitely its plan to release a set of 140 orphan works until its processes for determining copyright status are improved. The move comes after Authors Guild members this week said that owners of some of the works on the orphan list were located and presumed to have valid copyrights. In a statement, University of Michigan officials said they welcomed the scrutiny of the list, but that a review has revealed serious enough errors to rethink its procedures. “This tells us that our pilot process is flawed,” the statement notes.
“Having learned from our mistakes—we are, after all, an educational institution—we have already begun an examination of our procedures to identify the gaps that allowed volumes that are evidently not orphan works to be added to the list. Once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process, we will proceed with the work, because we remain as certain as ever that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful and important to the future of scholarship and the libraries that support it.”
In a post on its blog this week, Authors Guild representatives noted that author J.R. Salamanca’s 1958 novel The Lost Country was on the list. Librarians did not elaborate on how the book made the orphan list. A record search shows that the book was copyrighted in October, 1958, and was renewed in December 1986—seemingly a month late to keep the book’s 28-year copyright from lapsing. But, in one of many quirks in the complex copyright laws, books copyrighted between 1950 and 1963 have more time to renew, until December 31of the 28th year. The book has been long out of print.
University of Michigan’s John Price Wilkin told PW that the university remains committed to the orphan works program, and was still confident that the bulk of the books identified as orphans really are orphans. But he said librarians were left with no confidence in the system, and would not proceed until they had a system and procedures they were certain of. Wilkin stressed that there was no harm, as no copyrighted books were made accessible to any students. “Our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material.”