helenlt on August 24th, 2011
Whenever I hear the word orphans, it makes me think of the musical Annie and the song “It’s a Hard Knock Life” pops into my head. In the copyright world, orphans also exist and although they often have a hard knock life, someone does in fact “care a stitch for them” which is often why they can be difficult to use. An orphaned copyright work is one where the creator or copyright owner can’t be identified or if they can be identified there isn’t any contact information.
Copyright material can become orphaned in a number of ways. The most common is that details of the creator or copyright owner are not included on the work. This is a particular problem for images and other artistic works as it is very easy for information about the artist to be come separated from the image. Material can also be orphaned when copyright ownership changes. When the creator or copyright owner dies and it is not always clear, who in the estate inherited copyright. If the copyright owner is an institution or company, they may have merged with another company or gone out of business. Again, it can be difficult to find out who acquired copyright.
If you are creating images yourself, you can prevent your work from being orphaned. Just as a newborn baby is given a hospital identity bracelet to ensure it that doesn’t get lost or swapped, these few simple steps will reduce the chances of your work becoming lost.
You can use orphaned images as allowed under copyright as with any other image. However, not being able to identify who owns copyright makes it almost impossible to request permission to use an orphaned work. It’s not like you can take it to the nearest police station, and say “Excuse me, but I’ve found this orphaned image, can you help me
find its copyright owner?” So what do you do? First of all, you should conduct a thorough search for the copyright owner (see Locating Copyrights Owners for some tips). If you still can’t find the copyright owner, it may still be possible to use the image. Depending on what you want to use it for, what the image is, whether or not you are planning to use it commercially and whether or not there are possible alternatives. We can help you to assess the risk involved and determine whether or not it’s possible to use the image without permission.
Finally, if you do use an orphaned image – it’s still important to acknowledge the work, even if you don’t have any or all of the details. Simply include as many details as possible and a statement that the information is unknown.
So just remember that with a little TLC, the sun will come out tomorrow and the orphaned works can shine.