University of Michigan Library Delays Free Downloads of So Called Orphan Works From Hathitrust

Posted on September 19, 2011

The University of Michigan Library has reversed its position on allowing free downloads of so called "orphan works" from the HathiTrust. The library issued this frank statement about its flawed process for determining which works are actually orphans, and which works have known authors who are not happy about their work being given away for free:

The close and welcome scrutiny of the list of potential orphan works has revealed a number of errors, some of them serious. This tells us that our pilot process is flawed.

Having learned from our mistakesówe are, after all, an educational institutionówe 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.

It was always our belief that we would be more likely to succeed with the cooperation and assistance of authors and publishers. This turns out to be correct. 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. 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.

The Authors Guild quickly tracked down several authors from the orphan list using Google, and used the examples to show that many works on the list are not orphans at all.

More from Writers Write