The UK government plans to introduce new legislation to deal with orphan works, unlocking 'large numbers of works that currently cannot be used,' the Intellectual Property Office has confirmed
An 'orphan work' is generally accepted as a work from which the creator's identity has become separated and untraceable, or a work that's gone out of copyright. Such work is frequently used, at no cost to the picture user, in adverts, newspapers, magazines, books, websites and commercial hoardings.
The Intellectual Property Office has announced it will 'legislate in order to enable schemes for dealing with orphan works to be set up on a regulated basis,' it says in its latest report on UK's Copyright law.
'Because there is no way to obtain permission to use orphan works, they are therefore either unused or used illicitly,' says the IPO. 'There could be 25 million orphan works across UK museums and galleries,' including 40% of the British Library's collection and 1m hours of BBC programming.
The IPO admits that 'photographers are concerned that photographs on websites frequently lack identifying metadata and as a result evidence of ownership is lost.' It also warns that, with the rise of user-generated content shared online, the number of orphan works could exponentially increase.
However, it says that 'the inability to use these orphan works has broad implications,' such as impeding access to historical archives or the digitisation of these archives. 'Preventing the licensing of orphan works [also] decreases the range of works that can be used and potentially increases their prices.'
As a result, the IPO believes that 'a scheme that encouraged the identification of orphan works' authors could benefit groups such as photographers that are concerned about current infringing use.'
The schemes proposed would allow commercial businesses to use orphan works. 'Safeguards will include requirements to make a diligent search for the true owners and making provision for the reimbursement of rights holders who are subsequently found and claim for the use of their work.'
The same proposal made it to the US Congress last year. However, as the IPO's proposal, it lacked clear guidelines on what constitutes a diligent search for an orphan work's true owner.
While the IPO cautions that the orphan works problem in the UK is different than in other countries, it 'recognises the benefits of a Europe-wide orphan works solution and is encouraged by action being taken at the European level to address the orphan works problem.'
Read our full report on the IPO's proposals to reshape the UK's Copyright law.
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