What is an Orphaned Work?

This is when you can't find the owner of a work.

An Orphaned Work is a work that is still under copyright for which the owner(s) cannot be identified or located (for example, because the record company or music publisher has gone out of business).

Often times, orphan works are not available for legal use by filmmakers, archivists, writers, musicians, and broadcasters. Because rights holders cannot be identified and located to obtain permission, historical and cultural records such as period film footage, photographs, and sound recordings cannot be legally incorporated in contemporary works in such countries (unless the incorporation qualifies as fair use).

You can learn more about the copyright law in the following territories below.

United States

European Union



Pro Tip: the policy on Orphaned Works is different in every territory. You should thus always check your local laws and consult legal council as necessary. 


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