europeancommission_thumb[1] A couple of weeks back, BookBrunch featured an article looking at a new way of tackling the problem of finding the owners of orphan works—books that are still under copyright but whose current owners are unknown. It is estimated that up to 40% of library holdings may be orphaned.

Google’s solution for Google Books was simply to proceed with scanning anyway and let the rightsholders come after them. But ARROW, a project of the European Commission’s eContentplus program, is trying to make large-scale orphan rights searches feasible and productive.

But if this process of searching for rightsholders is to be undertaken effectively and efficiently, it needs to be made dependent on machines rather than people. Otherwise the cost of undertaking the search and providing the permission will be too high to make it viable. This is the role of ARROW: to demonstrate how bringing together data from multiple sources – national libraries, books-in-print publishers, and reproduction rights organisations (RROs) – can provide the necessary “rights information infrastructure” for tackling this challenge.

The article explains that the process works by bringing together a number of different databases, such as national libraries, books-in-print publishers, reproduction rights organizations, and so on. Although it’s basically an experiment right now, scheduled to end in early 2011, there are plans for follow-up projects and ways to turn it into a viable long-term service.

The only problem I’m finding with the article is it doesn’t seem to have a lot of specifics, and doesn’t say how this methodology makes it more likely that these orphan searches will have a successful outcome. Sure, libraries can find out faster whether the work is orphan or not, but how does that help trace the path of transfer of rights through different branches of a family tree?

Without that information, I’m not sure how this ARROW project is really going to be all that helpful.

Related: European Commission report: Digitizing orphan books in Europe


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