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Re: Authors, publishers, settle suit with Google

This discussion so far has neglected a very important fact: the 
creation of a large corpus of "orphan works" is entirely an 
artifact of the limitations of earlier printing technology. 
University presses were once compelled to allow many titles to go 
out of print simply because the economics of offset printing made 
it financially impossible to reprint fewer than 500 copies. This 
did not mean that no market any longer existed for these titles; 
it meant only that the market demand wasn't sufficient to justify 
a reprint at that level. With the advent of digital printing 
technology--which John Thompson rightly identified as the "hidden 
revolution" in scholarly publishing over the last decade in his 
"Books in the Digital Age" (Polity, 2005)--any publisher can now 
keep a book in print indefinitely through such POD services as 
Lightning Source. Thus, henceforth, the category of "orphan work" 
should simply cease to be relevant, to the extent that publishers 
choose to avail themselves of this technology and the "long tail" 
of the market that justifies using it.

I beg to differ with Joe that "readers...have demonstrated that 
orphan titles are not terribly important." That would be true 
only if one interprets "important" solely in narrow commercial 
terms. Many "important" works in scholarly terms have become 
orphans only because the technology rendered their reprinting in 
hundreds of copies economically impossible. That will no longer 
have to happen.

P.S. The exception for a while, will continue to be highly 
illustrated books for which digital printing has not yet 
succeeded in displacing offset printing for high-quality 
reproduction of art.

Sandy Thatcher
Penn State University Press

>Georgia Harper is definitely correct in describing the travails 
>of clearing rights for orphan works.  It's a nightmare.  But the 
>sarcasm of "little things like that" is perhaps better expressed 
>as "matters that are not terribly important."
>Orphan works are, for the most part, orphans for a reason; books 
>go out of print for a reason.  If there was a large demand for 
>these titles, publishers would have researched the rights 
>situation.  I know because I have done this.  Many publishers 
>have advisory boards whose role is to find "lost" books.  Take a 
>look at the impressive catalogues at Dover Publications and the 
>growing book program at "The New York Review of Books." Many 
>years ago, when I was working in the bowels of what is now 
>Pengun Books (it was called NAL back then), former teachers of 
>mine would write me to recommend titles.  I recall requests for 
>"Flatland", "Three Men in a Boat," and Jane Austen's juvenalia. 
>(These all turned out to be P.D.)  I brought George Gissing's 
>"The Odd Women" back into print in order to prove to a young 
>woman that I was not the sexist pig she thought I was.  I lost.
>The reason that these matters are not terribly important is that 
>readers, not greedy publishers, have demonstrated that orphan 
>titles are not terribly important.  If libraries have strong 
>circulation figures for books that are out of print, heavens!, 
>tell somebody.  But for books that rarely circulate or have not 
>circulated in some time, the incentives for researching 
>copyright status are tiny.
>What troubles me about many mass digitization projects is that 
>they are indeed "mass."  They are driven largely by IT and legal 
>concerns and do not partake of the culturally demanding, and 
>woefully inefficient, tasks of creation, selection, and 
>curation, performed by authors, publishers, and librarians. 
>One could imagine a different kind of digitization project whose 
>aim was to make what is already in demand more useful.  I 
>believe this is, for the most part (yes, there are exceptions), 
>a better course than to proceed indiscriminately.  It is 
>indiscriminate activity that makes the "little things" of 
>copyright clearance burdensome. It is time to reawaken to the 
>old-fashioned virtue of exercising judgment.
>Joe Esposito
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Harper, Georgia K" <gharper@austin.utexas.edu>
>To: <liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu>
>Sent: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 2:16 PM
>Subject: Re: Authors, publishers, settle suit with Google
> > It's nice when you don't have to worry about the orphan works,
> > works that are out of print that even their owners don't have
>>  copies of, works whose ownership is biterly disputed as between
>>  authors and publishers, little things like that.
>>  Georgia Harper
>>  Scholarly Communications Advisor
>>  University of Texas at Austin Libraries
>>  512.495.4653 (w); 512.971.4325 (cell)
>>  gharper@austin.utexas.edu