EU Parliament agrees to new law on orphan works

Cultural institutions need not fear copyright infringement

The European Parliament on Thursday approved new uses for so-called orphan works.

Parliamentarians voted in favor of a new directive that would allow public institutions, such as museums and libraries, to use photos, films or poems whose right holders cannot be found. Under the new rules, a work would be deemed "orphan" only if a "diligent search" made in good faith failed to identify or locate the copyright holder. The legislation lays down criteria for carrying out such searches.

Currently, digitizing an orphan work can be difficult because without a copyright holder, there is no way to obtain permission to do so. Should a rights holder turn up, they would be entitled to put an end to the orphan status of their work and to claim compensation. However, such compensation would be small because any use would be noncommercial, thus protecting cultural institutions from concerns about future copyright infringement claims.

Meanwhile, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the U.K. is working on a revamp of its bill on copyright that would allow the licensing of orphan works for commercial purposes.

The IPO said in its blog that the U.K. plan goes further than the E.U. draft directive, but also includes extra safeguards and provision for remuneration. "Our scheme will make provision for remuneration at an appropriate rate, which the Directive is not explicit about," said the blog.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to

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