The Center for Media and Social Impact released a report this month outlining best practices for sharing of orphan works by libraries and archives. Orphan works are scholarly works for which the copyright holder is unknown or cannot be found. This document, the first of its kind, is the result of a 2012 workshop that brought together dozens of archival professionals from across the United States to address copyright considerations pertaining to sharing orphan works.
Orphan works may include materials which may have been owned by a corporate identity that no longer exists or is impossible to locate, works which were created without copyright in mind, such as historical photographs or notebooks, or works in which the identifying information is inaccurate or outdated. Archivists who wish to provide scholarly access to digital collections containing these documents are often afraid to do so due to possible copyright infringement. While there has been documentation by various individuals and organizations about determining the legal status of a work and ways to find rightsholders, this is the first clear statement about good practices regarding orphan works that are contained in archival collections.
The report addresses such topics as determining when a search for the copyright holder should ideally be performed, various considerations of how to go about it, and approaches for seeking permission when a possible copyright owner has been found. It does not outline rules for fair use, but instead provides reasoning for the agreed exercise of fair use rights.