Citizens across the EU will enjoy orphan works

The European Parliament approved the new directive that will allow anyone across the EU to access so-called orphan works, i.e. photos, films or poems protected by copyright but whose right holders cannot be found. The new rules would also protect institutions that use orphan works from future copyright infringement claims.

MEPs approved the agreement reached with the Council in June 2012 on the new directive with regard to the so-called orphan works. With the new law, anyone across the EU will be allowed to access photos, films or poems protected by copyright but whose right holders cannot be found. The text also aims to make it safer and easier for public institutions such as museums and libraries to search for and use orphan works.

A work would be deemed to be "orphan" if a "diligent" search made in good faith failed to identify or locate the copyright holder. The legislation also lays down criteria for carrying out such searches. MEPs agreed that the right holder should be entitled to put an end to the orphan status of a work at any time and claim appropriate compensation for the use made of it. They nonetheless inserted a provision to protect public institutions from the risk of having to pay large sums to authors who show up later. At the insistence of MEPs, the text includes an article to allow public institutions to generate some revenue from the use of an orphan work (e.g. goods sold in a museum shop). All of this revenue would have to be used to pay for the search and the digitisation process.

Works granted orphan status would be then be made public, for non-profit purposes only, through digitisation. A work deemed to be "orphan" in any one Member State would then qualify as "orphan" throughout the EU. This would apply to any audiovisual or printed material, including a photograph or an illustration embedded in a book, published or broadcast in any EU country.