In creative works such as music, films, photographs and books, copyright arises automatically, to provide the author/creator with sufficient protection from copyright infringement. It does not need to be registered, and lasts for the lifetime of the author + 70 years.
So what are “Orphan Works”?
Orphan works are copyrighted works which have no identified owner; the most likely kind of orphan works are photographs, as they very rarely show the name of the individual who took the photograph on the print itself (unlike with books, music, etc where this is often obvious).
They do still attract copyright protection, preventing them from being copied or exploited without consent. The duration of the copyright varies slightly from the norm, in that the protection lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was made or made available to the public.
Use of an orphan work is only advisable if you can be sure that the copyright protection afforded to it has expired; if not, there is a significant risk that a court action could be brought for copyright infringement.
The Intellectual Property Office is, however, looking to make significant changes in this regard. New legislation could soon allow use of orphan works to be used on the understanding that a “diligent search” (the scope of which is still to be defined) is made to find its true owner, and a fee paid to a central organisation. This centralised organisation will be set up to collect the fees, with the idea being to then pay these amounts to the true owner if ever identified.
Still very much a work in progress, this is one to keep an eye on going forward . . .
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