27 Association of Research Libraries Research Library Issues 292 2017 Failure Is an Orphan: Reflecting on the Fall of the University of Michigan Orphan Works Project Robert Glushko, Associate Chief Librarian, Western University Introduction On May 16, 2011, the University of Michigan (U-M) announced that the U-M Library’s Copyright Office was “launching the first serious effort to identify orphan works among the in-copyright holdings of the HathiTrust Digital Library.”1 HathiTrust, a partnership of libraries and major research institutions, has long worked to hold, preserve, and make available digital content to contribute to the common good. In conversation with this mission, the Orphan Works Project built on the earlier research of then executive director of HathiTrust John Wilkin. In his paper, “Bibliographic Indeterminacy and the Scale of Problems and Opportunities of ‘Rights’ in Digital Collection Building,”2 Wilkin first identified the potential of the orphan works issue using, in part, data generated by the Copyright Review Management System (CRMS) grant project managed by the U-M Library and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The CRMS grant, which ran from 2008 to 2011, sought to reliably determine the copyright status of works published in the United States between 1923 and 1963. By determining whether a work complied with historical aspects of US copyright law, the CRMS project identified nearly 87,000 volumes that were previously unknown in any meaningful sense to be in the public domain.3 Building upon the work of this previous grant, the Orphan Works Project sought to identify and publicly surface books that were determined to lack identifiable rights holders after being subjected to an investigation. The project was initially met with a good deal of optimism and there was significant buy-in from the U-M Library, the university, and the academic community at large.
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