The Libraries experienced a happy coincidence this week: our HathiTrust copyright team finished reviewing all US works the same week as Copyright Week. It wasn’t even planned!

HathiTrustFor a little background, the HathiTrust Digital Library is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working together “to contribute to the common good by collecting, organizing, preserving, communicating, and sharing the record of human knowledge.” Part of this process includes digitizing library materials from partnering institutions. In 2008, the University of Michigan received a grant to develop a copyright review management system for scanned materials being deposited into HathiTrust. Multiple universities signed a letter of support as part of this grant, including UW–Madison.

UW–Madison not only contributes print materials for digitization, but also provides a team of 4 library staff members charged with reviewing the copyright status of HathiTrust works considered to fall within a legal “grey area.” Roughly speaking, under certain circumstances works published between 1923 and 1963 that have not had their copyright renewed have the potential of entering the public domain. University of Michigan technologists created an online tool that feeds images of HathiTrust works into a queue. The tool supports a decision tree workflow, created under consultation with HathiTrust lawyers, that considers criteria such as the format of the work, publication year, whether it includes other independently copyrighted material, and much more.

Just this week, HathiTrust partners, including UW–Madison, completed the review process of US works. This means that partners are currently being trained on how to review the copyright of foreign works from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which are not only mostly in English but also have similar copyright policies to the United States. Trainees work through educational materials about these foreign copyright laws online, and then practice on a private database. Once a trainee’s results regularly match the official results about whether an item is still copyrighted, the reviewer moves on to the real database of foreign works.

“It’s a very detail-oriented process. It’s not that glamorous, but it’s really important,” one of the librarians on the team told us. “HathiTrust is spending a tremendous effort to bring works to the public that it would be a shame if there were legal issues. There’s a lot at stake to consider so the project can continue.”

The following are the some of the first works cleared as being in the public domain:

  • Grimm, William Carey: The book of trees
  • Bates, J. L.: Irradiation effects in uranium dioxide single crystal
  • Hewins, Ralph: The richest American: J. Paul Getty
  • Hannan Real Estate Exchange:  The Hannan Bible
  • Towar, James DeLoss: History of the city of East Lansing

copyrightweekCopyright Week is an effort from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to raise awareness about copyright issues and policy. The EFF website says, “In the week leading up the two-year anniversary of the SOPA blackout protests, EFF and others are talking about key principles that should guide copyright policy.” Each day of the week is devoted to a different aspect of copyright issues.

Want to know more? Point your browser to HathiTrust, the Copyright Review grant, or Copyright Week. For information about the copyright review team here at UW–Madison, email Irene Zimmerman at