If you want to use copyright material, you first need to find its rightful owner. You will have to seek their permission before using the work to make sure that you don't infringe on their rights.
The owner is not necessarily the creator of the work, but could be:
- the creator's heirs
- the creator's employer
- someone who has bought the copyright, or who has an exclusive licence
- a collective licensing society
Because copyright applies automatically and there is no need to register it, it is sometimes difficult to find the originator of work.
Duration of copyright
Depending on the type of copyright work, copyright can last for 70 years after the death of the creator or copyright owner. If a company owns the copyright work and it goes out of business, the rights continue in the same way, as an asset of the company.
Once copyright expires, the work falls into the public domain and becomes available to anyone wishing to use, copy or reproduce it.
How to find who owns copyright
There are a number of ways of finding the owner of a piece of copyright work. For example:
- speak to professional organisations such as collecting societies and licensing bodies
- contact the principal publishers of the author
- contact their agent or representative, if possible
- search the internet for possible references
- look for the originator's family members
- contact archivists responsible for major collections of an author's papers
- check authors' directories such as Gale's Contemporary Authors online database
Using copyright work if you can't find the owner
Use of a work still in copyright without the specific consent of the copyright owner may be an infringement. Depending on the circumstances this may be a civil matter or could result in criminal prosecution. You should take legal advice before using any material that may be subject to copyright.
If you can't find out who the copyright owner is, check if you need an orphan works licence to use the work. Read about licensing orphan works.