'U' halts Orphan Works Project in light of lawsuit

By Joseph Lichterman, Daily News Editor
Published September 19, 2011

After acknowledging that its Orphan Works Project is “flawed,” the University announced Friday that it decided to suspend the pilot program indefinitely.

The Orphan Works Project is an initiative to identify books that may have unsuspectingly become part of the public domain after their original copyrights lapsed. The suspension of the program comes just days after a lawsuit was filed against the University claiming that the institution doesn’t have permission to use digital scans of more than 7 million copyrighted books.

Before halting the program, the University was scheduled to make 27 orphan works available for download through the HathiTrust Digital Library on Oct. 13 and another 140 books were planned for release in November. Any member of the University community with a uniqname would have access to the scanned books.

The lawsuit against the University was filed by the Author’s Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, Quebec Writers Union and eight other individual authors. The suit was also filed against the HathiTrust Digital Library — of which the University is an inaugural member — the University of Wisconsin, the University of California, Indiana University and Cornell University.

In a statement released Friday on the University Library’s website, the University acknowledged that there were “a number of errors, some of them serious” with the Orphan Works Project.

“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,” the statement said. “Once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process, we will proceed with the work.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily last week, Paul Courant, the University’s dean of libraries, said the library’s use of the scanned books was not in violation of copyright law.

“We’re not using these books in any way that competes with the use of the marketplace,” Courant said.

However, the Author’s Guild — a non-profit organization that supports the legal rights of authors — published a blog post.on its website last Wednesday that said the guild had located one of the authors included on the list of orphan works to be released by the University.

The author, J.R. Salamanca, is a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland. The Author’s Guild wrote in the blog that Salamanca wrote two successful books that were made into movies — starring Elvis Presley and Warren Beatty — and will soon have one of his books rereleased as an e-book.

The Author’s Guild reached out to Salamanca’s son and his literary agent, neither of whom knew that his work was to be included in the Orphan Works Project.

“(Salamanca’s son) told us that he, too, hadn't heard of the HathiTrust Orphan Works Project and was stunned to learn that his father's first book was set to be released online to hundreds of thousands of students,” the blog states.

The University Library statement said the University will continue to work with the authors and publishers to ensure the project is a success.

“The widespread dissemination of the list has had the intended effect: rights holders have been identified, which is in fact the project's primary goal,” the statement reads. “And as a result of the design of our process, our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material.”

Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild — the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit — said in an interview with the Daily last week that the authors are asking for an injunction to remove the copyrighted works off the Internet until Congress establishes a firm policy regarding digital libraries.

“Security is a top concern,” Aiken said. “These works do not belong to the universities.”