Copyright & Art Issues
Revised & Updated:
August 12, 2011

"Orphan Works"

Orphan works are works (images/photos, letters, books, works of art, and others) that are still formally protected by copyright, but where a potential user—scholar, teacher, artist, publisher or other person or institution—is unable to clear rights because a) there is no copyright information associated with the work; b) the information is inadequate or inaccurate; or c) attempts to contact possible rights holders have proved futile (no one at last known address; publisher out of business, no responses to letters, etc.). [Source: College Art Association website -]

The US Copyright Office hosted two public roundtable discussions on the topic of orphan works in order to hear from various stakeholders and organizations that had requested space to speak at the table. These discussions took place in Washington, DC, on July 26 and 27, 2005, and in Berkeley, California, on the campus of the University of California, on August 2, 2005. Transcripts of the discussions are available as PDF files; audio recordings of the Berkeley session are downloadable as mp3 files.

Notice of Inquiry Federal Register: January 26, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 16) [Notices] [Page 3739-3743]
Initial Comments Library of Congress website (721 files)
Reply Comments Library of Congress website (146 files)
Notice of Public Roundtables Federal Register: July 7, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 129) [Notices] [Page 39341-39343]
Roundtable July 26, 2005, Washington, DC
Roundtable July 27, 2005, Washington, DC
Roundtable August 2, 2005, Berkeley, CA
Roundtable [audio] August 2, 2005, Berkeley, CA
Final Report (with appendices) Library of Congress website, January 2006
Testimony to House Subcommittee March 8, 2006
Testimony to Senate Subcommittee April 6, 2006
Orphan Works Act of 2006
HR 5439 IH
Introduced in House, May 22, 2006
Testimony to House Subcommittee (Marybeth Peters) March 13, 2008 (webcast)
House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Orphan Works March 13, 2008
Orphan Works Act of 2008
HR 5889 IH
Introduced in House, March 24, 2008
Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008
S 2913
April 24, 2008 (September 27, 2008)


For a comprehensive guide to identifying and working with "orphan works," see the Society of American Archivists' "Orphan Works: Statement of Best Practices" (January 12, 2009; rev. June 17, 2009) at


Orphan Works: Statement of Best Practices

Society of American Archivists (SAA)

"This statement describes what professional archivists consider to be best practices regarding reasonable efforts to identify and locate rights holders. It is based on the authors' knowledge of the kinds of materials that are likely to qualify as orphan works and on their professional experience in trying to obtain rights information for such works in the past.

Although the statement focuses on unpublished materials because these are the types of materials that are usually found in archives, the authors recognize that many of the techniques that are useful in identifying rights holders for unpublished materials may also be useful in identifying and locating rights holders of published materials." (January 12, 2009; rev. June 17, 2009)


Note to readers: Over time, a number of urls cited on this page have been changed, removed, or lost. I have tried to find the original materials mentioned in the link, often resorting to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.
The first edition of this site appeared on March 22, 1996