Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
But there's another source of public domain works: until
the 1976 Copyright Act, US works were not copyrighted
unless they were registered, and then they quickly became
public domain unless that registration was renewed.
Not that quickly - 28 years. It was that way from 1831 to 1992.
(Before 1831, 14 years. After 1992, the sky's the limit.)
Post by Ted Nolan <tednolan>
The problem has been to figure out which of these works were
in the public domain, because the US Copyright Office's
records were not organized in a way that made it possible
to easily cross-check a work with its registration and
For many years, the Internet Archive has hosted an archive
of registration records, which were partially machine-readable.
Enter the New York Public Library, which employed a group
of people to encode all these records in XML, making them
amenable to automated data-mining.
Lots of them are even already OCR-ed.
I wonder how much of the problem of orphan works, in the US anyway,
goes away with the renewal requirement rendered effective. 80% is
rather a lot, and I'm guessing the *non*-orphan works are at least
5%, maybe 10%. So that leaves only 10% or so of remaining orphans.
(Even if I've overestimated the number of non-orphan works by a
hundredfold, STILL, only 20%.)
Wikipedia refers to a program at HathiTrust, devoted to orphan works
as indicated in its URL, whose remit is 1924 to 1963; this implies
that much of its material is actually in public domain. However, the
link given now resolves to HathiTrust's general collection search
page, and when I search for a collection with "Orphan" in its title,
I get only one about "Orphant Annie" [sic].
The Internet Archive does not preserve the page referenced by
Wikipedia as it existed prior to this 2011 statement by the
University of Michigan:
However, a different Wikipedia article provided another URL which has
only recently come down, although all the Archive's copies of it too
postdate the September 2011 statement.
This says explicitly that they were finding 46% of HathiTrust's 1924-
1963 materials still in copyright (presumably publishers were more
attentive to renewing copyrights on the kinds of materials that wound
up in university libraries and so in HathiTrust), and that that 46%
was the project focus, in which case frankly it's no wonder they ran
into a lawsuit.
Other parts of Wikipedia's article on US orphan works discuss the
problem of more recent works, which get copyright without having to
comply with *any* formalities. Most photographs I've taken were in
the stuff stolen from me in 2016. Assuming they weren't all
effectively discarded, someone out there could have some or all of
them, but how on Earth will that person find me to ask permission
from me to publish them? Not that my photos are likely to interest
anyone (I'm not much of a photographer now and was even worse as a
kid), but that's the kind of thing in question. A very different
*kind* of orphan work from the classical example of some 1930 novel
you've never heard of (but that has publisher, author, and so on).
Some electronically published books, especially if they're obviously
pseudonymous, might be somewhere in between these poles.
1963 is the borderline because laws passed beginning in 1992 first
lengthened the renewal term, then removed the renewal requirement.
Joe Bernstein <***@gmail.com>