Because following up is the thing to do

17 Sep

Duke’s Kevin Smith has written a wonderful and compelling open letter to J. R. Salamanca, whose 1958 book Lost Country has become a key element in the HathiTrust/Authors Guild lawsuit. Here’s an excerpt:

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.

Go read the whole thing. It’s well worth the time.

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