Q. What can I do if I want to use an item but there doesn't seem to be a copyright owner?
It sounds as if you may be talking about 'orphan works'. Orphan works are copyright works where one or more right holder is unknown or cannot be located. The UK government has powers to enable licensing of orphan works in the UK for commercial and non commercial use.
With a licence granted under the new (October 2014) scheme, these works can be reproduced on websites, books and TV without breaking the law and ensuring protections and remuneration for the people who own the rights in case they come forward.
In addition, there are certain exceptions to the copyright law when using orphan works, and you can use this eligibility questionnaire to decide whether or not these exceptions apply in your case. If not, you would need to apply for a licence.
An applicant must perform a diligent search for the right holder prior to a licence being issued. Guidance has been produced by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to assist potential applicants when searching for right holders to obtain permission to reproduce the work (see the links below).
These guides will be helpful if you decide to apply for a licence under the orphan works licensing scheme, which requires a diligent search to be completed. They include details on the sources that applicants must consult and a non-exhaustive list of additional sources which might be helpful. They have been developed through working with professionals in the relevant sectors.
Checklists to show that you have completed a diligent search have also been published, which may be used in the application process.
These documents are divided into three broad areas of copyright works:
- film and sound
- literary works
- still visual art