What a mess …

TechDirt brings word that an academic has joined the group of authors engaged in suing the Hathi Trust for its efforts to digitize and preserve so called ‘orphan works’, those in copyright but without a publisher who cares. The blog quotes an excellent response to the academic from Trust communications Officer Kevin Smith:

I am sure I do not have to tell you that libraries, including those that intend to participate in the Hathi Orphan Works project, are not your enemies. We are in the business of helping authors find readers, which hardly seems like it should be an objectionable activity. So let’s think for a minute about The Lost Country and what might be best for it and for you. 

The sad fact is that The Lost Country has become a pretty obscure work. Amazon.com shows only two used copies available for sale. In the Duke Libraries, the last transaction record we have for your novel is in 2004, when our copy was sent to high-density storage. It has not left the facility once since then, and our system shows no circulations in the prior decade, either. One of the famous “laws” of librarianship is that every book should have its readers, and the current system, I am afraid, is failing to connect your book to new readers. 

It has to be said that the Authors Guild is not going to help you in this regard. They are not going to publish a new edition of The Lost Country for you, nor will they pay you any royalties on the out-of-print edition. The Authors Guild simply does not have the ability to create a new market for your book. Even if they were to succeed in a grand strategy to impose a licensing scheme for orphan works in general, there is no reason to believe that you would profit from it. With such an obscure work, potential users who had to pay a fee would probably just skip the planned use. 

Being a distinctly ‘copyleft’ blog, techdirt sides somewhat with the Trust, who have gone to considerable efforts to ensure that the work is not published. Some comments took objection to this, stating that the rightsholder was simply exerting his legal right to preserve his own IP. Some where quite critical of his decision. Thankfully, because its the Internet, they were all able to respect and understand each others’ point of view and freedom of speech in a responsible way they could call each other names without fear of reprerisal.

One of them noted this,

Could this be the reason the Authors Guild is so against this?


They have their own service where they print new copies on demand, and only take 20% oh and in “most” cases this service is free to the authors.

So authors can club together and publish their orphan works without having to convince Random House to fund a 10k copy print run?

My own take on this is that more than ever, publishers (primary and secondary), authors and libraries are occupying the same space. As well as digitisation projects of varying scope and size, libraries are also investigating print on demand, although to be fair, they’ve been doing it since the course pack was dreamt up. Libraries publish online with repositories and everyone has access to the same print-on-demand sales vectors such as Lightning Source.

We used to know our place in the food chain, now everyone wants to be the Tiger.

Meanwhile, I can probably publish myself just fine with a combination of this blog and a print on demand service.

Not sure who is going to preserve it though.


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