Finding a good home for orphan works online

“Orphan works” has little to do with parentless children such as Oliver Twist but everything with copyrighted works of art such as films, novels and photos whose rights holder cannot be found. The Parliament and the Council concluded in June an informal deal to make these materials available online for non-profit purposes. This was approved by the EP on 13 September.

Will Europe's hidden cultural heritage soon be available online? ©Belga/Illustra

What the proposal is about

The European Commission has proposed a directive aimed at making it easier for public institutions such as libraries, museums and public broadcasters to search and use the work of artists that cannot be found. It also defines what can and cannot be considered orphan works. Right holders would be able to end the orphan status of their works and claim for their  use, but at the same time public institutions would be protected from the risk of paying large sums.

What MEPs think about the plans

The plans were welcomed by Polish Social-Democrat Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, whose report  on the draft proposal was adopted by the legal affairs committee in March. She praised its potential benefits: "This is clear legislation which gives public institutions legal certainty so they are not afraid of using orphan works. Public institutions are keeping all these works hidden as they are afraid that making them available without the consent of the rights holder could leave them facing trial and potentially millions of euros to pay so it is too risky. Those works sometimes make up to 70% of an institution's whole collection and they are at risk of being simply forgotten about."

The proposed deal on the directive, informally agreed by Parliament and Council representatives in June, was supported by speakers from all political groups during the legal affairs committee meeting on 10 July. However, Christian Engström, of the Swedish Pirate Party, commented:  “This is not going to help to make the European common cultural heritage available the way it is drafted so I would urge everyone to reconsider because at the moment it simply isn't useful.”

Next steps

The Council will also have to approve the proposed legislation.