The British Library, as part of the wider EU funded ARROW (Accessible Registries of Rights Information and Orphan Works) project, published on 9 September a study into rights clearance and mass digitisation which examines the issue of orphan works - works for which the rights holder is untraceable.
Seeking New Landscapes: A rights clearance study in the context of mass digitisation of 140 books published between 1870 and 2010 found that more efficient ways of clearing rights and providing cultural institutions with legal certainty over their activities are needed to ensure that highly valuable research materials dont remain out of reach of the vast majority of citizens. The study by Barbara Stratton is here
Key highlights of the report include: 1) Whilst it could take 1,000 years for one person to clear the rights of just 500,000 books manually equating to 4 hours per book - the use of the ARROW system would reduce this dramatically to less than 5 minutes per title to upload the catalogue records and check the results. 2) Of the total number of potentially in-copyright works 43 percent were orphan works, equating to 31 percent of the total sample. 3) The type of publisher had a large impact on whether works were orphaned, with self-published works accounting for 51 percent of all orphan works in the study; 4) The decade which featured the most definitely in-copyright orphan works was the 1980s (50 percent) which demonstrated that although age may be a factor in whether a work becomes orphaned, even material from the recent past is clearly affected by this issue.
Through analysis of a representative set of titles published within the 140 years between 1870 and 2010, the study demonstrates a need for innovative solutions in relation to mass digitisation projects. The study found that manual rights clearance of works on an individual, item by item basis is unworkable in the context of mass digitisation which can potentially involve the copying and making available of millions of copyright works.