Unfortunate: Novelist Joins Lawsuit Against Libraries; Would Apparently Prefer His Book Rot In Obscurity

from the short-sighted dept

After the Authors Guild decided to prove that it's really against education by suing University Libraries, it also began a disappointing game of "gotcha". Specifically, the Guild found J.R. Salamanca, an author who the HathiTrust had been unable to find. The HathiTrust had listed a novel by Salamanca in its list of potential orphan works. The list actually worked as intended -- providing time for any such authors to identify themselves and to stop the orphaned work from becoming available as a scanned work.

Still, this made HathiTrust look bad, and it put the project on hold. The best response, though, was from Duke University's Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith, who wrote an open letter to Salamanca urging him not to join the lawsuit:
It is not a comfortable position to be a pawn in a game of “gotcha,” especially when it involves litigation. What I want to say to you is the same thing I say to faculty authors at the institution where I work: “Consider carefully where your own best interests lie, and manage your copyright to serve those interests.”


I am sure I do not have to tell you that libraries, including those that intend to participate in the Hathi Orphan Works project, are not your enemies. We are in the business of helping authors find readers, which hardly seems like it should be an objectionable activity. So let’s think for a minute about The Lost Country and what might be best for it and for you.

The sad fact is that The Lost Country has become a pretty obscure work. Amazon.com shows only two used copies available for sale. In the Duke Libraries, the last transaction record we have for your novel is in 2004, when our copy was sent to high-density storage. It has not left the facility once since then, and our system shows no circulations in the prior decade, either. One of the famous “laws” of librarianship is that every book should have its readers, and the current system, I am afraid, is failing to connect your book to new readers.

It has to be said that the Authors Guild is not going to help you in this regard. They are not going to publish a new edition of The Lost Country for you, nor will they pay you any royalties on the out-of-print edition. The Authors Guild simply does not have the ability to create a new market for your book. Even if they were to succeed in a grand strategy to impose a licensing scheme for orphan works in general, there is no reason to believe that you would profit from it. With such an obscure work, potential users who had to pay a fee would probably just skip the planned use.

Where you can find help for this problem is with the HathiTrust. Their goal, and the goal of the libraries that plan to participate in the orphan works project, is to make it easier for readers to find works like your novel, which might otherwise languish on shelves or in large warehouses of books. Digital access to low-use titles through our catalogs will encourage users to discover resources, for study and for entertainment, that they might not have bothered with before.
It appears that the rhetoric from the Authors Guild won out, and J.R. Salamanca has gone in the other direction, joining the lawsuit against the universities and the HathiTrust. What a sad legacy Salamanca is adding to his career. Rather than embracing greater access to his obscure and out of print works, he's chosen to attack learning institutions who sought to make his works more accessible. As a professor himself, he ought to be ashamed.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Oct 2011 @ 8:14pm


    Your question is stupid.

    The fact that it was his decision (and no one has claimed it was not) does not render him immune from criticism and/or shame.

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