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September 14, 2011

Authors Guild find ‘Orphan’ book’s author in 2.5 minutes

Ironically, Authors Guild used Google to track an author whose work has been listed as 'orphan' by some universities

By CBR Staff Writer

Two days after filing a lawsuit that alleged that five American universities got unauthorised scans of millions of copyright-protected books, the Authors Guild have apparently won a major victory in the fight.

The authors claim that they have found one author — whose work has been listed under ‘Orphan Works’ by the universities – by using just the Internet and a phone. They say it took a few minutes for them to track the author.

Earlier five American universities — the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University — declared that they will begin sharing digital versions, allowing unlimited downloads, of so-called "orphan" works.

Orphan works are usually out-of-print titles that are protected by copyright but whose authors cannot be traced. The Hathi Trust has a large collection of such books in digitised form as part of the Google Books initiative. The universities claim that only those books whose authors cannot be traced after an all-out effort, would be digitised and allowed to be downloaded.

However, the Authors Guild and writers from Britain, Australia and Canada filed a complaint in a US District court accusing the universities and the Hathi Trust digital library project of copyright infringement.

The complaint alleges that the universities got unauthorised scans from Google of around seven million copyright-protected books. The lawsuit seeks to confiscate the digitised works along with other unspecified damages.

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"By digitising, archiving, copying and now publishing the copyrighted works without the authorisation of those works’ rights holders, the universities are engaging in one of the largest copyright infringements in history," the lawsuit said.

Executive director of the Australian Society of Authors Angelo Loukakis had said, "Maybe it doesn’t seem like it to some, but writing books is an author’s real-life work and livelihood. This group of American universities has no authority to decide whether, when or how authors forfeit their copyright protection."

Loukakis added, "These aren’t orphaned books, they’re abducted books."

Now the Guild has some proof that the books termed "orphans" by the universities could indeed be abducted ones.

The Guild revealed in a blog that it tracked down the author of one of the so called "orphan" works that is in the list of the universities for release soon.

The blog on the Authors Guild website claims that they have found J R Salamanca, the author of "A Lost Country." The book is a 1961 fiction which was also turned into an Elvis Presley movie.

Ironically, the authors used Google to find Salamanca, who they say, had no idea that his work is being digitised by the universities.

The authors blog read:

Here’s what we did. It took two steps.

Step #1. We googled "book author [author name]."

This turned up, on the first page of results, a July 24, 2000, Publishers Weekly interview with the author. The interview mentions the name of his literary agent.

Step #2. We looked up the literary agent in a standard online phone directory.

We found the number and called. We spoke to the agent’s wife. She confirmed that her husband represented the author, who lives in Maryland. A couple hours later, the agent called us back.  He had no idea his client’s first book, "The Lost Country" (the one made into the Elvis Presley movie), was headed to the orphanage in a few weeks. He wasn’t happy. He told us that his client had just signed an agreement to release his second book, "Lilith" (the one made into the Warren Beatty movie), as an e-book by Tantor Media.

The author is J.R. Salamanca. His agent is John White of the John White Literary Agency in Connecticut.

The next day, it was the day before yesterday, we spoke to Richard Salamanca, the son of the author. (Jack Salamanca has a hearing problem, so Richard handles phone duties.) He told us that he, too, hadn’t heard of the HathiTrust Orphan Works Project and was stunned to learn that his father’s first book was set to be released online to hundreds of thousands of students.
All told, it took us two-and-a-half minutes, give or take, to reach the agent’s wife.

Mr. Salamanca is a professor emeritus of the University of Maryland. He’s listed in the current University of Maryland graduate school catalog. He lives in Maryland, just as he has for decades.

The blog lists out other ways to find J R Salamanca as well.

The authors ask, "If HathiTrust’s researchers can’t locate a bestselling author with a literary agent, an author who’s also a retired professor from a major East Coast university, how are they going to locate authors in other countries? How will they find an author of a work in Finnish (more than 4,000 books in the collection), Hindi (more than 35,000 books), or Japanese (more than 150,000 books)?"

The authors’ find is likely to have repercussions on the court hearing to be held this week.

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