From Hal Abelson, Harry Lewis, Lewis Hyde, and Charlie Nesson: “One wonderful promise of the Google Book Settlement is that it will bring back into circulation all the out-of-print books currently under copyright. An important subset of these works are “orphaned,” meaning that their legal owners have abandoned them, died, or simply cannot be located. These works have value, and renewed public access to them will create a stream of revenue.
To whom should that revenue be dedicated?
We argue that truly orphaned works should be thought of as a part of the public domain, and that any income generated from their renewed circulation should therefore be dedicated to the public good. Moreover, as this income has been derived from renewed access to printed books, the public good in this case can well be thought of as those institutions that are themselves dedicated to access to knowledge.
We therefore propose the creation of an Open Access Trust, funded by the revenue generated by unclaimed orphaned works.
Trusts are centuries-old institutions devised to hold and manage property for beneficiaries. The essence of a trust is a fiduciary relationship. Neither trusts nor their trustees may act in their own self-interest; they’re legally obligated to act solely on behalf of beneficiaries. These rules are enforceable by the courts.
Imagine a trust dedicated to access to knowledge. The beneficiaries of such a trust would be all living citizens, globally, and future generations. The trustees, in turn, would have as their primary duty the creation, encouragement, and maintenance of institutions that serve the goal of open access, worldwide….”