U. of Michigan Library Opens Up Orphan Works

June 23, 2011

The University of Michigan Library will announce today that it will be allowing authorized library patrons to access all of its digitized "orphan works" in full. Students and guests will now be able to access online any texts they would have been able to find in the stacks, Michigan officials said in a press release. This is the latest step in Michigan's attempts to identify and unlock the orphans -- books whose copyright holders cannot be found or contacted -- in its collection. The university announced last month that it is also working to identify more orphans the millions of volumes held by HathiTrust Digital Library, a Michigan-based aggregator of university library collections. Other institutions are preparing making their own orphans available to authorized students and researchers, officials said in Wednesday's press release.

In light of a federal court's recent rebuke of Google's attempts to sell broad access to orphan works through its controversial Google Books Project, experts have speculated that it may be up to Congress to determine how orphans can and cannot be used. Michigan is not waiting around to open up its own orphans to authorized users, a move that it sees as covered by the "fair use" exemptions to copyright law.

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