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University of Michigan suspends HathiTrust Orphan Works Project. Claims “proposed uses of orphan works are lawful,” and promises a reboot.

The 163 books on Orphan Row have a reprieve.  In a statement released this morning, the University of Michigan Library announced the suspension. “The close and welcome scrutiny of the list of potential orphan works has revealed a number of errors, some of them serious. This tells us that our pilot process is flawed.”

Michigan pledged to re-examine its procedures and create a “more robust, transparent, and fully documented process” and continue the project:  “we remain as certain as ever that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful and important to the future of scholarship and the libraries that support it.”

Michigan says that its main purpose has been to identify copyright owners:

“It was always our belief that we would be more likely to succeed with the cooperation and assistance of authors and publishers. This turns out to be correct. The widespread dissemination of the list has had the intended effect: rights holders have been identified, which is in fact the project’s primary goal. And as a result of the design of our process, our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material.”

In the past few days, the Authors Guild, its members, and those commenting on this blog have identified or found leads, many quite strong, to the owners of the literary property rights to 50 of the books that Michigan planned to start releasing for downloading by hundreds of thousands of students in four weeks.  (Additional list of literary property leads here.)  Four of the authors of the so-called orphan books are alive, including one who signed an e-book deal earlier this month, and two of the books are in print, one in a revised edition.  For 14 of the literary works, the spouses or children of the authors were identified, mostly through quick and simple online searches for obituaries.  Five of those obituaries had quite current information about the location of the authors’ survivors, since the authors had died in the last ten years.  One, André Missenard, died just last month in Paris.