Thursday, August 27, 2009

Orphaned Works... What do you do if you can't find the copyright holder?

One of the things I'm working on with The Book is wrangling permissions. This, I think, is almost harder than writing, as it involves not just my own weirdnesses, but those of other people as well.

To be fair, I have been in contact with extremely helpful people, who corresponded with me, sent digital files, copies of reports, and happily signed and returned the permission to publish form required by my publisher. Others have been happy I'm interested in publishing their materials, and promise to make the experience smooth sailing (once I decide which images I want to publish...) To those people, I am increasingly grateful.

Others responded positively up front, then vanished *poof* when the permission to publish form was sent their way. They may respond favorably to a nudge; I am planning some nudginess this weekend. There is one image in particular from this category that I *really* *really* want.

Other folks, surprisingly (to me) associated with large organizations in the heritage field, have been entirely and completely non-responsive. Verily, black-hole-like in their non-response (NPS and APT, I'm looking at you). The APT can go jump; their stuff's already out there anyway. But the image from the NPS? Another one that I *really* *really* want. For The Book and an article, really. Yeah, it's Federal, so I should just be able to take it... but that would be rude. And, I'd like to be sure to give correct attribution. And, I love the NPS, so this wall-of-black-hole-silence is driving me.

So, yeah. Enough winging about Fun With Photo Permissions, and to my point. There is a lot of stuff that I'd love to incorporate into The Book, but which falls within copyright limitations and the corporate authors of the works are long defunct (I'm not really working with much stuff that would have individual authors/creators). What to do, what to do....

This rolled through my RSS feeder today, courtesy the Blog of the American Historical Association: It is a .pdf Statement of Best Practices in dealing with Orphan Works (things in copyright where the copyright holder no longer exists or cannot be found), published by the Society of American Archivists. There is some good stuff in here about deciding whether to publish what you think are Orphaned Works or not (risk assessment), how to determine who is the creator, how to determine who is the copyright holder (they are often different), copyright heirs (yikes), Reproduction Rights Organizations (international and domestic!), how to cover your butt, and additional reading.

It sounds like a mess; or on a good day, like a boat-load of work. But it doesn't need to be; it's mostly just methodical. And probably, in certain cases, quite worth the effort. This certainly gives me a framework to consider Orphaned Works and in approaching their use. I'll also have to check with my publisher; they may prefer to steer entirely clear of Orphan Works.

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