Orphan works: Low-stakes civil disobedience by curatorial institutions

June 24th, 2011 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

Interesting to see the library at U Michigan publishing copies of orphaned works, even if the copies are to be restricted to on-campus users. This is similar to the policy of the Free Music Archive in including orphaned works in their collection. Institutions such as these (the FMA is backed by WFMU) are usually wary of breaking the law, given their fiduciary responsibilities and the risk of financial penalties from civil suits. In the case of genuine orphaned works, however, the risk should be low – given that attempts to actively seek out rights holders have failed (and in the case of U Michigan, they note that most of the works are low-circulation scholarly works, with limited economic potential) – and the organizations are taking the view that, on balance, their charge to make creative works available outweighs the limited potential for financial costs. An emerging venue for copyright activism and and debate.

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