HathiTrust and the Future of Orphan Works

The U.S. Copyright Office is taking another look at the problem of orphan works under U.S. copyright law.

As the Copyright Office notice explains that the Copyright Office is “interested in what has changed in the legal and business environments during the past few years that might be relevant to a resolution of the problem and what additional legislative, regulatory, or voluntary solutions deserve deliberation.” Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. EST on January 4, 2013. Reply comments are due by 5:00 p.m. EST on February 4, 2013.

Assuming it is not reversed by the Second Circuit, does the HathiTrust win on October 10, 2012 take some of the urgency out of the orphan works issue? After all, digitization for non-expressive use such as text mining and building a search engine has now been confirmed as fair use. In addition, digitization in the service of expanding access for the print-disabled is also now clearly fair use.

Or, does the HathiTrust win simply set the stage for addressing general purpose expressive access to orphan works? The district court in HathiTrust did not reach the merits of the copyright claims with respect to the universities’ Orphan Works Project and gave very little signal how it would decide such an issue.