As Public Knowledge seeks to counter the sometimes exaggerated fears of a world in which orphan works legislation has been implemented, it is important to reiterate the purpose of the proposed Orphan Works bills. They seek to provide a solution to the unfortunate, and all too common, result of our current copyright system – the inability to track down copyright holders, even after a diligent search, and the resulting orphaning of their copyrighted works.
While much has been said of the proposed registries for pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works, the need for registries in general to both assist a subsequent user in conducting their required diligent searches and, ideally, to help prevent the continued orphaning of works has been enumerated as early as the Copyright Clearance Center’s comments on the orphan works issue back in 2005. In a symposium hosted by the University of Maryland University College Center for Intellectual Property last week, OCLC, the producer of the ubiquitous (at least in the library world) WorldCat global cataloging system, suggested just such a registry.
On a panel discussing the economics of copyright in mass digitization, OCLC’s Bill Carney discussed the still in development OCLC Registry of Copyright Evidence. The Registry, utilizing current WorldCat records for determining a baseline of known rights information, would harness the user-generated environment of Web 2.0 to create as complete a record of a work’s copyrighted status as possible from the information discovered during the diligent search of an OCLC member organization. As OCLC member institutions are comprised of more than 60,000 libraries in 112 nations, the Registry will not only have a substantial knowledge source to draw upon, but will also be available to a large number of institutions regularly engaged in seeking copyright clearance. Ultimately this would make the search process more efficient as subsequent users were able to build on the information already accumulated by their peers.
This is not the first time that the library industry has taken a pro-active step in tackling provenance problems. A proposal by the California Digital Library late last year to add a new field to the MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloging) bibliographic record format standard that would contain information essential to determining a work’s copyright status was approved by the Library of Congress and Library and Archives Canada early this year. Though the brevity of a MARC record makes it questionably suitable for housing complex copyright statuses, this was still a move in the right direction towards creating a more complete record of provenance.
OCLC’s Registry is still in its pilot phase, but Carney’s vision for it was exciting. Of course, such a system is only as good as the content contributed by its participants, so interested libraries should be keeping an eye on its development.