A few days back I brought you the news that the Author’s Guild had formed an alliance with 2 of their conterparts in order to sue the HaithiTrust over its book digitization project. One of the AG’s complaints that I didn’t realize was quite so important was the status of HaithiTrust’s orphan works.
This is a group of 163 books that are probably still in copyright but did not have an identifiable copyright owner. Unfortunately, it looks like the HaithiTrust didn’t put too much work into finding the authors.
The Author’s Guild have a post up today where they discuss the amount of effort they put into finding the author of one of the orphan works. As an example, they picked J.R.Salamanca’s novel The Lost Country. They were quickly able to find past interviews of the author, his bio, and even contact info for his agent. (It only took a couple of minutes, which has to be rathr embarrassing for the researchers at the HaithiTrust.)
But I’m going to have to poke holes in the AG’s argument. They chose to use as an example a book that is the exception, not the rule. This book was made into a movie starring Elvis Presley. How many of the 163 orphan works will have been made into movies?
I started checking myself, and I could not find any book that was as easy to identify as The Lost Country. In fact, I went through 5 titles and while I think I could eventually track down the copyright owner (I’m a decent researcher), I expect it to take some hours of my time as well as multiple phone calls, emails, and letters before I do. (BTW, all 5 books were long since out of print.)
I’m sorry, but these books are orphans. The ones that aren’t will be the exception, not the rule. And if you don’t think these titles are orphans then I invite you to find the copyright holder. Trust me, it’s not going to be easy.
Update: It looks like i could be wrong. The AG just posted that they found that 2 of the authors of orphan works both left their estates to Harvard. You know, if they’re really going to check each title and try to find the author then why did they file the lawsuit? i think it would be more productive to have assisted in the search, not fought the HaithiTrust in court.