IPO launches new ‘orphan works’ licensing system

The government has launched a new licensing scheme that will give access to a reported 91 million culturally valuable creative works including diaries, photographs, oral history recordings and documentary films.

Creative works are automatically protected by copyright and for someone to reproduce them; permission from the rights holder must have been obtained. However, if the rights holder cannot be found, these works are known as ‘orphan works’ and until now, there has been no way in which they can be legally reproduced and so have gone unseen.

Under the new system, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will be able to issue a licence so that orphan 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 following publication.

It is understood that a market rate fee will be charged for the licence to compensate right holders should they make themselves known plus an application fee which will cover the IPO administration costs.

The government’s announcement was timed to coincide with the introduction of a new initiative from the European Union called the ‘Orphan Works Directive’, which allows cultural institutions to digitize orphan works and display them online.

Together, these changes in the law will allow greater access to archival records in the UK, about 50% of which are considered orphan works.

This is another progressive move by the government to make our current intellectual property laws fit for the 21st century and there will undoubtedly be more changes to come.

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