Copyright: Orphan works

Orphan works licensing scheme

Guide

Orphan works are copyright works where one or more right holder is unknown or cannot be located. It is not normally possible to reproduce the work if the right holder(s) cannot be found. However, the orphan works licensing scheme provides a way to reproduce these works lawfully.

Orphan works licence

If you want to use an orphan work in the UK, you can apply to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a licence. An orphan works licence:

  • applies only for use in the UK
  • can be for commercial or non-commercial use
  • is non-exclusive (not restricted to a single licensee)
  • can last up to seven years
  • can be renewed

The IPO can issue licences for orphan works for both non-commercial and commercial purposes, for up to seven years.

Find out more about the types of orphan works licences.

Do I need an orphan works licence?

If you want to reproduce a copyright work, you need to try to find out who the right holders for that work are, and get their permission to use the work.

If you cannot find the right holders or it isn’t known who they are, then you can use the orphan works licensing scheme.

You may not need an orphan works licence if your intended use of the work falls within one of the exceptions to copyright – for example, teaching or non-commercial research and private study.

You should also consider if the work is still in copyright. If the work is in the public domain because the copyright has expired, then you do not need a licence and are free to use the work.

To find out if a work is still in copyright, you should consider:

  • when the work was created or first published; and
  • whether the right holder is still alive, or if you know when they died

To find out how long copyright lasts for different types of work, see what does copyright cover.