Orphan works
Produced in partnership with Jake Palmer of Bristows

The following IP practice note produced in partnership with Jake Palmer of Bristows provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Orphan works
  • The orphan works problem—background
  • The Hargreaves Review—orphan works
  • European interest in tackling orphan works
  • The Licensing Regulations
  • Scope of the licensing scheme
  • Applying for a licence
  • Licence fee
  • Safeguards—diligent search
  • Moral rights
  • More...

Orphan works

The orphan works problem—background

Orphan works are those copyright works where the rights holder is not known or cannot be located and include, by way of example, books, films, music and photographs. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988) gives the copyright owner exclusive rights in the UK to carry out various acts in relation to a copyright work. Activities set out in CDPA 1988, such as copying and communicating to the public, carried out by those other than the copyright owner, without permission, may infringe the owner’s exclusive rights. Orphan works cannot be copied or published without the permission of the rights holder without risk of copyright infringement, which hampers the use of orphan works in, for example, books, TV programmes, exhibitions and on websites.

For further context on where orphan works fit into the area of copyright and associated rights, see: Copyright & associated rights—overview.

The orphan works problem has resulted in large quantities of copyright works remaining unused, whether for cultural or commercial purposes. The Orphan Works Impact Assessment (No: BIS1063) undertaken in 2014 stated:

‘This concerns millions of pieces of content ranging from video and sound recordings, as in the British Film Institute where 10% of the collection is orphaned to more than two million archive photos in the Imperial War Museum. There are also approximately 150 miles of shelved documents

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