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Orphan Works to Open Access: Harvard Library publishes report on digitizing orphan collections

The Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC) is pleased to announce the release of a comprehensive literature review on strategies for digitizing orphan works for open access.

An orphan work is any original work of authorship for which a good faith, prospective user cannot readily identify and/or locate the copyright owner—especially in situations, like digitization projects, where permission from the copyright owner is legally necessary. Orphan works can be books, photographs, movies, music, or any other copyrighted media.

The Orphan Works Project is an attempt to solve the legal complexities of the orphan works problem by identifying no-risk or low-risk ways to digitize and distribute orphan works under U.S. copyright law. The project’s goal is to help clear the way for U.S. universities, libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions to digitize their orphan works and make the digital copies open access.

In the spring of 2015, the OSC commissioned research from David Hansen, Clinical Assistant Professor and Faculty Research Librarian at University of North Carolina School of Law. David is no stranger to the orphan works problem; he was one of primary facilitators for a project to create the Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Collections Containing Orphan Works for Libraries, Archives, and Other Memory Institutions, released in December 2014.

David completed the report, titled Digitizing Orphan Works: Legal Strategies to Reduce Risks for Open Access to Copyrighted Orphan Works, in the spring of 2016. A panel of experts then read the draft and commented on its significance, as well as its strengths and weaknesses in methodology and presentation. These expert comments ultimately helped improve the final edition.

We are excited by the possibility that this report could change the face of the orphan-works problem in the United States. This research was made possible by a grant to the Harvard Library from the Arcadia Fund. We thank both the Arcadia Fund and the Harvard Library for their support.

Text of the report