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Research Blog Series: Crowdsourcing Orphan Works Clearance through EnDOW

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Research Blog Series: Crowdsourcing Orphan Works Clearance through EnDOW

By 13 December 2017March 16th, 2021No Comments

Kris Erickson discusses orphan works and the EnDOW project for the Research Blog Series .

Project: EnDOW: ‘Enhancing access to 20th Century cultural heritage through Distributed Orphan Works clearance’

Investigators: Lead Investigator: Professor Maurizio Borghi, Bournemouth University (Director of Centre for Intellectual Property & Policy Management), PI (Glasgow): Kristofer Erickson (now Leeds University) & Ronan Deazley (now Queen’s University Belfast), PI (Bocconi University): Lilla Montagnani, PI (IViR Amsterdam): Lucie Guibault (now Dalhousie University)

In addition to the core research team, the project employs a number of PhD students and research assistants, who are assisting with tasks such as surveying the orphan works legislations of various Member States, compiling logic flowcharts and interviewing memory institutions about best practices.

EnDOW team. L-R: Maurizio Borghi, Kris Erickson, Marcella Favale, Victoria Stobo, Lilla Montagnani, Maarten Zenistra, Lucie Guibault, Simone Schroff and Aura Bertoni. (Photo Diane McGrattan)

What did your research aim to do?
EnDOW is a practice-led research project to design and test a crowdsourcing solution to the problem of high costs for institutions wishing to make use of orphan works. The EU Orphan Works Directive of 2014 enabled Member States to create a copyright exception for cultural heritage institutions to use orphan works (copyright works whose owners are unknown or cannot be located) following a diligent search for the copyright owner(s). The diligent search requirement is very expensive and beyond the reach of many institutions, particularly those engaged in mass digitisation. So a crowdsourcing solution could reduce costs by allowing institutions to distribute the work of diligent search out to a wider population drawn from members of the public or supporters of the institution.

Building a crowdsourcing platform has also been an opportunity for new research: the research team has learned about current needs and capabilities of cultural heritage institutions, the nature or hermonisation of EU Directives into national legislation, and the economics of crowdsourcing.

How did you do it?
Technical design of the platform is being led by Maarten Zenistra from Kennisland consultants in Amsterdam. Maarten has extensive experience with complex copyright issues, having been involed previously with design of the Public Domain calculator.

What are your key findings?
In a 2016 paper we lay out the rationale for a crowdsourcing approach to rights clearance. On the basis of current understanding of practices within cultural heritage institutions, we argue that crowdsourcing may be an effective solution if designed appropriately:

  • The nature of the task – diligently searching for rightsholders in individual works –appears to be suitable for crowdsourcing, being easily divisible and scalable.
  • Challenges relate to locating and motivating a suitable community of willing contributors, while minimising the cost of managing distributed contributions.
  • In order to be scalable a crowdsourcing solution must take into account the legal requirements for diligent search in every jurisdiction where it was to be used.
  • Any technological platform needs to be integrated within the workflow of institutions, adding knowledge costs which must be taken into account and mitigated.

What impact has your work had so far/what impact do you anticipate it will have?
Preliminary findings and a prototype diligent search platform were unveiled at an international symposium in Bournemouth UK on 23rd June 2017. The research team is now working with cultural institutions around Europe to pilot test the platform. Partners include the British Film Institute, the Bibliothèque Nationale de Luxembourg and the National Records of Scotland.

Challenges encountered/Lessons learned
Practice-led research requires considerable resources in order to produce useful results. Software design is not a core capability of the research team, so engagement with private enterprise is necessary. Universities consistently underestimate the cost of producing good, useful digital tools. Interactive software platforms are additionally complex, by requiring mechanisms to enable communication between users. For example, the need to facilitate error-checking of individual records by distributing them to multiple users will add considerable costs to the design of the platform.

Are there additional/new research questions still to be answered in this area?
The overall economic impact of crowdsourcing has yet to be empirically confirmed. In my new role in the School of Media and Communication at Leeds University, I will continue to investigate the conditions that enable innovation – whether in collectives, organisations, or distributed crowds.

How has your association with CREATe helped to take things forward?
The original vision of Maurizio Borghi and Ronan Deazley made this project possible. When I took over the evaluative part of the project for CREATe in 2016, I benefited from a number of key competencies of the centre. One very helpful resource has been interdisciplinary contact with the Edwin Morgan scrapbook digitisation initiative and the hard work of Kerry Patterson who collected data about the costs of clearing rights. Meaningful interdisciplinary research appears to benefit from having subject matter experts under the same roof – in this case, archivists, legal scholars, and computer scientists.

For more information see the main project website: and the published paper (Borghi, Erickson, Favale)