As Claude Beguin notes in the foreword, “orphan book” is a funny phrase. Duke University’s James Boyle estimates that 95% of all books produced in the 20th Century are commercially unavailable but under copyright. For some of those, copyright information is available. For most of them, however, it is not. These works which have not entered the public domain cannot be made available to anyone because no one actually knows who the copyright owners are–even the owners themselves.
Thus they are “orphaned.”
Theatre of Sleep offers an interesting variation on the theme. It is a collaborative work, an anthology from across European and American literature about dreams and sleep–a subject obviously close to us here at the Star. The originals of these are in multiple languages: English, French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, et alia. Copyright then becomes truly complex. Every single contribution needs to be cleared not only by the original author but also by the translator.
This brings about an interesting tension, as M. Beguin notes:
On the one hand, the authorizations we got to include anthologized passages from copyrighted works only obtained for that Picador edition, and no a posteriori pact between US-only parties can change that.
On the other hand, the Google settlement stipulates that users will only be able to copy and/or print a minimal fraction of the works made available by Google, and this defeats the point of having an electronic book.
This electronic version goes some way toward solving that problem. As an electronic version it can evolve constantly as rights are found and cleared, while the rights already cleared or found in the public domain have been already included. There have been three different versions so far of the book. As it’s released with a Creative Commons license, it is free to use as it stands. Sections for which the rights are not yet cleared are marked as such. Visually their absence is striking, as it is a small metaphor for copyright in general.