The French government is leading the world in nabbing orphans. No, not parentless children, but literary works that are out of print and whose authors can’t be traced. There are between half and three quarters of a million out of print books in France. About a fifth of these are orphans. A law passed at the end of February means that the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, BnF, can now scan these and make them available for free, whereas other distributors have to charge for them. It’s a five year operation that will be funded by the State, even though times are hard.
But what has shocked people is that as well as orphans, all books that were published in France and out of print before 2001 are to be subject to the same treatment, unless the author, publisher or other rights holder opts out of having the book sucked into the BnF database. And this applies to books by foreign authors too.
This is a huge rights transfer issue. Even the pro-pirating French Pirate Party is horrified by it! And France is already working on how to persuade Europe to allow this set-up to take precedence over the forthcoming European proposal on dealing with orphan works.
It seems heavy handed in the extreme. It will be interesting to see how things work out.