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Re: Hathi Orphans?


For books a publisher originally published and retains rights, 
it's easy a) to tell you we hold the rights and b) to tell you if 
it's ok to digitize or not.  For books on which we relinquished 
rights decades ago and have lost contact with the 
author/agent/estate, then it's not that we don't want to help, 
it's that we don't have the staff resources to start hunting down 
the current rights holder.  And really, if you want to start a 
mass-digitization project, then it's your responsibility to track 
down rights, not somebody else's. Publishers can't speak for 
those people and we also can't change laws dictating that the 
book in question remains in copyright.  I am continually 
astonished at what seems to be a de facto assumption that presses 
have people sitting around with nothing to do who can thus be 
assigned to laborious tasks that offer no contribution to the 
viability of the organization.

I will concede that publishers who may or may not own the rights 
to books long ago published by companies they later acquired do 
have a responsibility to establish whether or not they continue 
to hold rights.  But it's a slog and needs to be accomplished on 
a schedule that the publisher defines as appropriate to its own 
operations, not the wants of parties who want them to do so as a 
public good (we all decide ourselves when and how to engage in 
charitable activities).  And again, if the establish that rights 
were relinquished, they have no way of knowing who the 
rightsholder is today for a book they may have let go many, many 
years ago.

That said, I also don't know how somebody (eg, a mass digitizer) 
seeking rights figures out what current publisher might own 
rights for books that have passed through four or five rounds of 
mergers and acquisitions.  So far as I know there's no central 
place to discover, for example, who owns Appleton Century books 
today.  That would be a useful resource, but who would put it 
together and how they would do so?  Heck, I don't even know who 
holds rights to the still-in-print books published my first 
employer some forty years ago (Dodd, Mead).

In short, anyone who thinks straightening all this out is either 
easy or cheap--or who thinks most publishers have the resources 
to tackle it in the face of all else going on right now--is 
engaged in a bit of self-delusion. An agency like CCC no doubt 
can help, but it would be unreasonable to expect them to do more 
than they deem manageable.  And it wouldn't be unreasonable for 
them to charge a fee to conduct these searches.

Copyright's messy and hard.  I expect we can all agree the 
laws--both international and domestic to US--need changing.  But 
in the meantime it's just not realistic to expect publishers to 
bear the burden for groups who want to digitize collections of 

My two cents,


Alex Holzman
Temple University Press
Email: aholzman@temple.edu