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Spare Rib and the threatened EU Orphan works exception

Chris JHolland26 February 2019

Back in October we blogged about the threat posed to the the EU Orphan works exception by a no deal Brexit and the LACA campaign to highlight the issue.

A recent article in the Guardian highlights a concrete example of the effect of the removal of the exception, namely the case of the digital archive of content from Spare Rib, a ground-breaking feminist magazine. The Spare Rib archive has been made available online by the British Library (BL) using the Orphan works exception to good effect.

In the event of a “no deal Brexit” however the BL, in common with other cultural institutions, will no longer have the benefit of this exception simply because it can be enjoyed only by institutions in the EU (and the EEA) which, obviously, will no longer include the UK. Orphan works will no longer be covered by the exception and UK institutions such as the BL will be obliged to take down this very significant content to avoid the risk of copyright infringement.

The current process of vetting applications for orphan work status, moreover, is an EU process, run by EUIPO. The UK IPO could in principle establish a UK procedure to replace that run by EUIPO for the benefit of UK institutions, but seems to have no current intentions of doing so.  You can read what the IPO has to say about copyright and a no deal Brexit  here

Help save the Orphan works exception: Support the LACA campaign.

Chris JHolland16 October 2018

The UK IPO has made it clear that in the event of a no-deal Brexit it intends to amend the Orphan works exception out of UK copyright legislation. Yet this is a very useful exception which permits a range of cultural institutions including libraries, archives, film heritage bodies and universities  to make orphan works from their collections available online. The distinctive feature of orphan works is that the owners of copyright in the work cannot be identified (or if they can be identified cannot be located) so that there is no possibility of seeking permission.

The exception (introduced by the EU in its Orphan works directive and then implemented in the UK in 2014) is easily justified and very useful to cultural institutions planning to make significant collections available online. The details can be found in Schedule ZA1 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Anyone using the exception must first carry out a “diligent search” for rights-holder information to ensure that the work in question is really an orphan work  and then register it with EUIPO (the EU Intellectual Property Office). So far UK institutions have been big users (“beneficiaries” in EUIPO terminology) of the exception. According to the database the BFI and the BL have registered the largest number of works.

The exception could easily be retained in the UK legislation in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The “diligent search” guidelines which also apply to the IPO’s separate licensing scheme will need to be retained in any case.  A UK registration procedure would need to replace the function of the EUIPO database, but the data recorded for each item is quite succinct and the task is not particularly complex. If your institution is already using the exception or just thinking of using it then LACA (the Library and Archives Copyright Alliance) would really like to know. This is a link to the LACA campaign flyer. You may also wish to let the UK IPO know about your concerns or pose any questions you may have about their plans for the Orphan works exception.