Press release

UK opens access to 91 million orphan works

A new licensing scheme launched today could give wider access to at least 91 million culturally valuable creative works.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


A new licensing scheme launched today (29 October 2014) could give wider access to at least 91 million culturally valuable creative works - including diaries, photographs, oral history recordings and documentary films.

These works are covered by copyright, but rights holders cannot be found by those who need to seek permission to reproduce them. Under the new scheme, a licence can be granted by the Intellectual Property Office so that these works can be reproduced on websites, in books and on TV without breaking the law, while protecting the rights of owners so they can be remunerated if they come forward.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe, Minister for Intellectual Property said:

The UK’s trailblazing orphan works licensing scheme enables access to a wider range of our culturally important works.

The scheme has been designed to protect right holders and give them a proper return if they reappear, while ensuring that citizens and consumers will be able to access more of our country’s great creations, more easily.

The scheme also aims to reunite copyright holders with their works and ensure they are paid for their creations, by requiring the applicant to conduct a diligent search and allowing the right holder to search the register of granted licences.

This ground breaking scheme builds on UK and international best practice and is the first to use an electronic application system and searchable register of the licences granted. It is being implemented alongside the EU Orphan Works Directive that enables cultural institutions to digitise certain orphan works in their collection and display them on their websites. Together these 2 schemes will help to display more of the UK’s cultural work at home and across Europe.

The UK scheme will be administered by the UK Intellectual Property Office and is part of the wider programme of work to modernise the UK’s copyright system following the Hargreaves Review. Users will pay a fee to obtain a licence to use the work, which will be kept for the copyright owner should they come forward.

Notes to Editors

  1. Creative works are protected by copyright so permission is needed from the right holder to copy them. However, sometimes it is not possible to find the right holder so you cannot reproduce the work without breaking the law.
  2. The works are sometimes referred to as orphan works. A work can be an orphan work where 1 or more of the holders of the copyright is unknown or cannot be located.
  3. The licence scheme is a ground breaking scheme that builds on UK and international best practice. It is the first scheme to use an electronic application system and searchable register of the orphan works licences that have been granted.
  4. Together with the new EU Directive, it will help to disseminate more of the UK’s cultural work at home and across Europe. It also ensures that there is proper protection for all copyright works, regardless of whether the owner can be found.
  5. The UK licensing scheme and the Directive are complementary but separate:
    • The EU Directive on certain permitted use of orphan works provides an exception to allow cultural institutions to digitise written, cinematic or audio-visual works and sound recordings and display them on their websites, for non-commercial use only. The EU Directive comes into UK law on 29 October 2014.
    • The UK Orphan Works licensing scheme enables licensing of copyright works in the UK where the right holder cannot be located. The licensing scheme applies to all types of orphan works and provides for broader commercial as well as non-commercial use. It can be used by anyone and is not just restricted to cultural and heritage bodies.
  6. The scheme will be administered by the UK Intellectual Property Office, the government department responsible for intellectual property, including copyright. The scheme has been developed in consultation with right holders and users of the copyright system.
  7. A market rate fee will be charged for the licence, to compensate right holders should they come forward. An application fee is also charged which will cover the administrative costs of the scheme.
  8. Part of the scheme’s purpose is to help reunite copyright holders and their works, and to ensure that they are paid for their creations.
  9. Those applying for a licence will need to evidence that they have undertaken a diligent search for the right holder in order to submit an application. The IPO has a responsibility to satisfy itself as to the quality of the diligent search undertaken before a licence can be issued. Guidance on this can be found at Orphan works diligent search guidance for applicants.
  10. The IPO will maintain a register of works that are subject to an application, those that have been granted a licence and those refused a licence. The register will enable right holders, if they so wish, to check whether any of their works are being considered as potential orphans or have been licensed for use after the diligent search. However, the onus for finding right holders is on the potential licensee.
  11. The government will shortly be publishing a consultation on reducing the duration of copyright in certain unpublished works and the 2039 rule.
Published 29 October 2014