US: Orphaned Works and Copyright

Librarians Looking for Help on Copyright Suit
Eli Edwards and Mary Minow are collaborating on a research project in support of the team working on the Kahle v. Ashcroft copyright lawsuit (maybe that makes them part of the team?), and they are asking librarians and archivists for their help.

Larry Lessig and the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society filed Kahle v. Ashcroft on behalf of Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle and Richard Prelinger of Prelinger Archives. The suit challenges the constitutionality of changes in copyright law that have resulted in an overabundance of „orphaned works“ — information that, though subject to copyright, has little commercial value and is not made available for publication by the rights holder, and therefore is largely inaccessible. Specifically, the suit seeks to overturn the move from a system that required authors to register their works for copyright protection, to the current system in which copyright is automatic and no registration is required.

If successful, the suit could make it much easier for libraries, archives and other organizations to digitize orphaned works published between 1964 and 1977 (the year the no registration required system came into effect). As part of the effort, Eli and Mary are asking librarians:

1) To identify collections of orphaned material they hold that was published between 1964 and 1977, and that they will not consider digitizing or posting online because of copyright restrictions, and

2) Whether someone can come up with a manageable method for determining how many works were published between 1920 and 1950 (when no registration was required)?

See the details here, and email Eli Edwards if you have ideas or suggestions.

And while I am at it, congratulations to Eli on the publication of her article, „Ephemeral to Enduring: The Internet Archive and Its Role in Preserving Digital Media,“ in the March issue of Information Technology and Libraries. She does an excellent job of describing the Internet Archive as an organization that, though not a library, has strong affinities with and important lessons for librarians. As she writes:

„In order to extend the life of information on the internet, libraries, archivists, and computer scientists will need to examine IA and its successes and failures and draw lessons from what has been done by IA and other projects, as well as what still needs to be done, to preserve our growing yet precarious digital heritage.“

As Eli suggests, the Internet Archive is helping to build the digital information commons. Librarians have a responsibility both to learn from what the organization is doing and to bring their knowledge to bear on the problem of how best to nourish and preserve that commons.

Autor: Klaus Graf

Historiker und Archivar, Blogger

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