UM receives grant for Copyright Review Management System

This is local news for me, but exciting and important on a national level (at least I like to think so).

The University of Michigan Library was just awarded a grant for over half a million dollars from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to develop a copyright review management system which will improve the reliability of copyright status determinations.

Here are the details:

The University of Michigan Library will create a Copyright Review Management System (CRMS) to increase the reliability of copyright status determinations of books published in the United States from 1923 to 1963, and to help create a point of collaboration for other institutions. The system will aid in the process of making vast numbers of these books available online to the general public. Nearly half a million books were published in the United States between 1923 and 1963, and although many of these are likely to be in the public domain, individuals must manually check their copyright status. If a work is not in the public domain, it cannot be made accessible online. The CRMS will allow users to verify if the copyright status has been determined.

The project was inspired by the work that the Michigan Library is already doing to determine the copyright status of the thousands of books published between 1923 and 1963 that Google has digitized from our collections. Books published during that period are in the public domain if their copyrights were not renewed or if proper copyright notice was not included in the publication. Most digitization projects, including Google’s, block access to all books published after 1922 because their copyright status is unknown and difficult to determine. Michigan has a workflow in place that uses copyright renewal records and page images from the books to research the copyright status of those works, and to open up access to the ones that turn out to be in the public domain.

The Copyright Review Management System will build on this work, and support efficient collaboration among institutions. It joins OCLC’s new Copyright Evidence Registry in the growing field of collaborative library copyright determination projects. My understanding is that Michigan is already sharing data with OCLC, and presumably our collaborators will as well. It’s nice when collaborative projects collaborate with each other.

Michigan’s project will raise the impact and usefulness of mass digitization projects by drastically increasing the number of digitized works that libraries can safely share with the public. In the absence of a reasonable orphan works bill, or even, dare I say it, some much-needed improvements in copyright law, it’s great to see libraries working to expand the known public domain and squeeze every last usable work from their massively digitized stacks.