Case study

Orphan works licensing scheme: Museum of the Order of St John

The orphan works licensing scheme has helped the Museum of the Order of St John tell the story of a wartime nurse for a new generation.

Image of Link Gallery
© Museum of the Order of St John


The Museum of the Order of St John tells the story of the Order of St John from its origins in 11th century Jerusalem, where the first Knights of St John set up a hospital to care for sick pilgrims, through to its role today with St John Ambulance.

The Museum, which has been welcoming visitors for over a hundred years, is in the process of creating an interactive learning resource based on a scrapbook compiled by Elizabeth Veronica Nisbet, a volunteer nurse during the First World War who died in 1979. The scrapbook contains photographs, drawings and newspaper cuttings. The interactive learning resource will tell her story.

Peter Eaves, Office Assistant at the Museum, explains:

Veronica Nisbet served at the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital in Étaples, Northern France, from 1917 until the end of the First World War. The scrapbook consists of Veronica’s own photographs and drawings as well as newspaper cuttings and photographs by others, documenting the staff and patients of the hospital.

The project is due to be launched on 7 September 2015 and will provide a valuable insight for young people into the role of volunteer nurses like Veronica.

Getting an orphan works licence

As part of the project, the Museum tried to find the holders of the copyright for various black and white photographs in the scrapbook. When they weren’t able to find any of the right holders, the Museum used the results of their searches to make six orphan works licence applications covering over 170 orphan works.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) checked the search information provided by the team at the Museum. Once the IPO was satisfied that the search had been “diligent” and was complete, it issued the Orphan Works licence. This allows the photographs to be used in the project.

Peter Eaves explains the value of having a licence:

The successful grant of orphan works licences for the photographs has meant that Veronica’s scrapbook can be made available online and can be developed by St John Ambulance Cadets into an important interactive learning resource. The scrapbook provides a moving insight into the conflict and is a unique opportunity to learn more about the role of the Order of St John and St John Ambulance during the First World War.


Peter has several tips for people or organisations wanting to make an application for an orphan works licence:

  • record the process you follow on a spreadsheet or similar form. When you apply for a large number of licences, it is important to organise your findings so you can refer back to them easily at different stages of the application process
  • email organisations when searching for right holders as this will speed up the diligent search process
  • make sure you have a digital copy of your image for uploading and sending to the IPO as part of your online application

And does the Museum of the Order of St John have any plans to use the licensing scheme in the future? Peter says:

The Museum has a very large collection of photographs. Going forward, the Museum will be able to make these available online using the orphan works licensing scheme.

Published 8 September 2015