Members of the Copyright Review Management System at the University of Michigan

Recipient: University of Michigan Library

Program: Copyright Review Management System

Year Awarded: 2014

Grant log number: LG-05-14-0042-14



Additional Resources:
Finding the Public Domain: The Copyright Review Management System (Issue Brief) (PDF 850KB)


Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer
Librarian, University of Michigan Library

Pictured above: Members of the Copyright Review Management System at the University of Michigan.

“Beyond just creating a system for copyright determination, this project has broadened the discussion of normalizing people’s access. This project has changed people’s expectations about access, and in a sense, changed people’s sense of what’s possible.”

- Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer and Librarian, the University of Michigan Library


Determining the copyright status of a piece of work is an important but complex task. With a multi-year grant, the University of Michigan Library created a system that reviewed over 650,000 pieces of work and determined their copyright status, resulting in open reading access to these materials for a wider audience.

Enhancing Expression Through Copyright

Melissa Levine, left, speaks with Karyn Temple Claggett, Acting Register at the U.S. Copyrights Office, right, about the Copyright Review Management System.

According to Melissa Levine, Lead Copyright Officer at the University of Michigan, “copyright is meant to do something – several things – to accomplish socially-desirable ends. One of those ends is to create a space for the exchange of ideas that allows us to build upon a universe of expression that came before.”

Noted as the social bargain of copyright, rights of copyright holders exist for limited period of time. After that, copyright expires and works enter the public domain, becoming part of the free exchange of ideas. However, the copyright status of a work is not always clear.  Given the complexity of copyright law and the challenge of obtaining the necessary factual information for any single inquiry, it is a challenge to confidently and efficiently identify the many works that may be in the public domain. Many cultural and memory institutions lack resources to do this work. The University of Michigan’s team aimed to rectify that through their Copyright Review Management System (CRMS).

National Leaders Pushing Copyright Boundaries

Through a 2014 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the University of Michigan, along with dozens of academic partners, engaged in copyright determinations of works in HathiTrust. HathiTrust is a partnership of major research institutions and libraries working to ensure that the cultural record is preserved and accessible long into the future by collecting millions of digitized volumes for research and scholarship.  “HathiTrust has grown, as has its core mission of digital preservation,” said Levine, who heads the CRMS project at the University of Michigan. “As we continued to see HathiTrust grow, we realized that there were opportunities for broadening access of research material. That was the impetus for the Copyright Review Management System.”

The Copyright Review Management System’s CRMS-World Interface
The Copyright Review Management System’s CRMS-World Interface. This interface provides a scanned view of the work and allows the reviewer to enter information relevant to that work’s copyright status.

In 2008, the University of Michigan started to build CRMS to determine the copyright status of the hundreds of thousands of books published in the United States between 1923 and 1963. In the grant’s three-year period, CRMS made copyright determinations for over 170,000 works, identifying 87,000 volumes as in the public domain. In the fall of 2011, the University of Michigan expanded the work of CRMS globally to include works from Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.  The success of these two phases led to the current grant to the university to expand their Copyright Review Management System further.

Sustaining a Copyright Review System

With the latest National Leadership Grant, the University of Michigan expanded its work with CRMS by completing the copyright determinations on works in HathiTrust published in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom; publishing a toolkit for other institutions that wish to contribute to CRMS or develop a copyright determination project of their own; and creating a business plan to ensure that copyright determinations for HathiTrust will continue in a sustainable manner. In October 2016, the project team published the toolkit, “Finding the Public Domain: The Copyright Review Management System,” which is publicly available online.

Classroom with online training for new reviewers
CRMS reviewers from partner libraries gathered in Ann Arbor for training in 2012. Later, the team developed online training for new reviewers.

“One of the highlights of this project is working with our reviewers and our advisory board,” said Levine. “These individuals are generous-spirited individuals, and it’s amazing to hear how they want to keep going, long after the project phase is completed.”

Patterson Award: Resting on the Shoulders of Giants

Carrie Russell, left, of the American Library Association presents Melissa Levine, right, with the L. Ray Patterson Award.

In 2016, CRMS won the L. Ray Patterson Award given by the American Library Association. The award, named after L. Ray Patterson, a former law professor at the University of Michigan, “recognizes contributions of an individual or group that pursues and supports the Constitutional purpose of the U.S. Copyright Law, fair use and public domain.” Traditionally given to an individual, the dedicated university library partners participating in CRMS constitute the first group to receive this award.

“The system is an example of the collaboration and cooperation across the nation’s libraries,” said Carrie Russell, director of the Program on Public Access to Information in the Office for Information Technology Policy at the American Library Association. “At the heart of librarianship is the notion of access to information. The team at the University of Michigan provided a system that released so much information, not just to university clientele, but to the entire world, which is just amazing.”

Opening the Doors of Public Domain

During the project, 343,075 works were identified in the public domain, allowing these previously digitized items to be opened for online access throughout the United States and the world. Through the work of the University of Michigan, CRMS continues to give shape to the public domain as a reality, providing meaningful access to works across the country and around the world.

The Copyright Review Management System’s review statistics table where reviewers can track their progress by having access to a variety of statistics.

In 2017, the team will begin looking at U.S. state government publications and will return to titles published in the United States. Since 2013, an additional 80,000 titles were added to HathiTrust and await copyright determination. CRMS has become a sustainable force in the library, museums and archives field.

National Leadership Grants for Libraries