May 16, 2022

"HathiTrust Single-Handedly Sinks Orphan Works Reform" by James Grimmelmann

From The Laboratorium Blog:

In a series of blog posts yesterday whose tone can only be described as “gleeful,” the Authors Guild has been showing that specific books aren’t orphans. So far, they’ve found copyright owners or literary agents for J.R. Salamanca’s The Lost Country, Albert Bandura’s Adolescent Aggression, and James Gould Cozzens’s Confusion. They didn’t track down Walter Lippmann’s The Communist World and Ours, but it appears that someone else did. The legwork involved wasn’t particularly intensive: some Google searches, some queries of standard copyright-related databases, and some phone calls.


Once is a mistake, twice bad luck, and three times is a sign of a broken process. The Authors Guild’s experiment demonstrates that HathiTrust’s orphan-tagging workflow cannot be relied on to identify genuinely orphan works with sufficient confidence to be usable. Out of 166 books originally on the list, at least four have been identified as non-orphans. A 2.5% false positive rate isn’t going to be acceptable.

Read the Entire Analysis by James Grimmelmann

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.