EU Exit: Orphan works and cultural heritage institutions - copyright from 1 January 2021


Last updated 26 November 2020

The UK has agreed a deal with the EU. This page tells you the new rules from 1 January 2021. It will be updated if anything changes.

Orphan works are copyright works for which the right holder is not known or cannot be found. Because orphan works are protected by copyright, they cannot be used freely, even though it may be impossible to get the right holder's permission.

Under the EU Orphan Works Directive, cultural heritage institutions – eg libraries, archives and museums – based in the European Economic Area (EEA) can digitise and make orphan works available online across all EEA member states without the permission of the right holder.

Cultural heritage institutions must register orphan works used under the exception on a database maintained by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

Orphan works exception from 1 January 2021

The EU orphan works exception will no longer apply to UK-based institutions and will be repealed from UK law from 1 January 2021.

UK institutions may face claims of copyright infringement if they make orphan works available online in the UK or EEA, including works they had placed online before 1 January 2021.

Actions for UK cultural heritage institutions

By 1 January 2021 UK cultural heritage institutions will need to:

  • remove any orphan works currently placed online under the exception
  • consider seeking a licence under the UK's orphan works licensing scheme
  • where they have a licence to use the work in the UK, consider limiting online access to users based in the UK to avoid copyright infringement in the EEA

Changes for UK orphan works scheme licensees

The UK's orphan works licensing scheme allows orphan works to be licensed in the UK for commercial and non-commercial uses, subject to the user paying application and licence fees and completing a diligent search for the right holder.

Licensees will no longer need to consult the EUIPO orphan works database as part of the diligent search. No other changes will be made to the diligent search requirements or the licensing scheme in general.

First published 26 November 2020