Copyright: Orphan works

Apply for a licence to use orphan works in the UK


The orphan works licensing scheme allows you to reproduce orphan works lawfully. You must apply online for a licence with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

Before you apply for an orphan works licence

Before you apply for a licence, you should consider why you want to use the orphan work and if there is non-orphan work you could use instead where the right holder is known and locatable. You could even consider commissioning a new work.

You should also check if the intended use of the works falls within one of the copyright exceptions. If it does, you may not require an orphan works licence.

You will not need a licence if the copyright has expired, and the orphan work is in the public domain. If you are unsure if the work is still in copyright, you can apply for a licence.

Search for the right holders
To get a licence to use an orphan work, you will need to carry out a diligent search to try to find the missing right holders. This takes time and there may be some costs involved.

In your licence application, you will have to demonstrate that you have carried out this search. You will also have to keep a record of it if your application is successful.

Search the orphan works register
Before starting the diligent search, you should search the orphan works register to see if a previous diligent search has been completed on the work or right holder.

The register holds details of:

  • applications for orphan works licences
  • licences that have been granted
  • applications that have been refused

If you are the right holder, you can use the register to check if any of your works have an orphan work status or have been licensed for use.

Applying for an orphan works licence

To apply for a licence, you must complete the online application form and pay the application fee. You will need to include certain information with your application, such as:

  • title of the work (where known) or one-sentence summary (if title is unknown)
  • short description of the work
  • known references
  • use description
  • work's provenance (ie how the work or its copy came into your possession)
  • image of the work (if the work is a photo or still visual art)

You can apply for more than one use for the same work in one application, but each separate use will have its own licence fee. You can also apply for multiple works in one application. The maximum number of works you can apply for in one application is 30 and the application fee is based on how many works are in your application.

What happens after I apply?

The IPO will consider your application and check that you've made an adequate diligent search. They will add certain details of your application to the orphan works register.

If your application is successful, you will get an option to proceed with all the works and uses you have requested, or remove some from the application. If you want to add works or uses, you will need to submit a new application.

IPO will then send you the terms and conditions (T&Cs) that apply to the licence. A set of standard T&Cs is included in the IPO's guidance for applicants.

If you want to go ahead, you'll now need to pay the licence fee.

If your application has been refused, or you're not happy about a licence condition or the licence fee charged, you can appeal.

Costs of orphan works application and licence

The cost of getting a licence includes:

  • an application fee - payable on application
  • a licence fee – payable if application is authorised

These fees are calculated and displayed at the start of the online application process. They fee will depend on how many different works and uses you want to license.

In some cases, the licence fee will be set on a 'price on application' basis. For example, if the intended use of the work is not listed on the online application form. In this case, contact the IPO at for details of the fee.

See a list of orphan works licence application fees.

Licence fees are kept by the IPO on behalf of the absent right holder for eight years in case the right holder comes forward, so applicants have business certainty if they obtain a licence. For more on this, see orphan works: guidance for right holders.